Skip to main content

Full text of "The 54th Infantry Brigade, 1914-1918; some records of battle and laughter in France"

See other formats



iliii"Itifaiitry Brigade 


Digitized by tine Internet Arcliive 

in 2007 witli funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 


THE 54th INFANTRY BRIGADE, 1914—1918 


Our Old Comrades, 


Officers, Non-commissioned Officers 

AND Men 

of the 


Who fell Gloriously during our Four Years' Service, 


TO win the final victory, 

this little record of their achievements 

is dedicated. 

M o 

^ a 


Printed for private circulation only 




Some Records of Battle and Laughter 
in France 

Printed by 
GALE « POLDEN Ltd.. Wellington Works. Aldershot 
London and Portsmouth 


The above heading is quite misleading. There has been no 
author — or, rather, there has been no one author, for this book 
is made up of the stories and recollections of all ranks. If it 
fell to one fellow's lot to collect the stories and pass them on to 
the printer, that was simply his excuse for sitting and smoking 
in his billet whilst the rest of the Brigade were out on ' ' salvage ' ' 
during these last months in France. 

The fact that the book is to be regarded as written by the 
Brigade itself, and not by any individual, explains why you will 
find, " We went forward here," or " We dug in there," on so 
many of the pages, as though the writer had been present on 
every occasion when the Brigade went into action. You must 
imagine this book written b}' the Spirit of the Brigade, which 
shared every tour in the line, went over with each battalion 
behind every barrage, and never missed a parade. 

But even the Spirit of the Brigade has its limitations. Some 
who read this book will turn to a particular chapter and say, 
" Why, they've missed one of the best incidents in that fight " ; 
or, "A very funny thing happened in that sector — pity it's 
been left out." Well, that's where it is better to drop all this 
talk about an omnipresent Spirit of the Brigade, and confess 
that we are only human, and that we could only put into this 
book the material that was received. Goodness knows we 
worried everyone we could get at for stories and recollections, 
and goodness knows everyone we worried was patient and kindly 
beyond words, and did his best to supply material for these 
pages. If we failed to get hold of what you believe to have been 
the best story of the whole campaign — well, sorry ! Better 
luck next war ! 

One or two omissions have been unavoidable. Certain poi- 
traits should have been in this book, and every effort was made to 
get them, but up to the moment when the last pages had to go 
to press they had not been received. Also, it had been fully 
intended to print a full list — and it would have been a long 
and splendid one — of all the honours and awards gained by 
officers, non-commissioned officers, and men while serving with 
the Brigade. Unhappily, the rough-and-tumble of service in 
the field sometimes makes the keeping of full and exact records 
impossible, and while some units furnished the lists required. 


others were unable to do so. In these circumstances it seemed 
better, rather than pubhsh an incomplete record, to publish 
none at all. 

There is nothing more to say except to thank all those of all 
ranks who have so good-naturedly assisted in compiling these 
pages, and have borne patiently with the writer when he has 
pestered them to fight their battles over again for our common 

E. R. 

54TH Infantry Brigade, 
March, 19 19. 



Early Days in England... ... ... ... ... i 

First Experiences in the Trenches ... ... ... ii 

Further Experiences in the Trenches ... ... 20 

The Somme — July, iyi6 ... ... ... ... ... 31 

Trones Wood ... ... ... ... ... ... 43 

Thiepval ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 51 

ScHvvABEN Redoubt and Regina Trench ... ... 68 

Boom Ravine ... ... ... ... ... ... 75 


The German Retreat of 1917 ... ... ... ... 85 

Cherisy ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 96 

The Ypres Salient and Glencorse Wood ... ... 105 

Houthulst Forest ... ... ... ... ... ... 117 



The March Retreat ... ... ... ... ... 126 

The Defence of Amiens 141 

Albert ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 154 

The Bray-Corbie Road ... ... ... 161 

The Passage of the Ancre-Combles ... ... ... 171 


Through the Hindenburg Line 178 

Le Cateau and the Armistice i8g 

Brigade Commanders, Brigade Majors, Staff Cap- 
tains, Commanding Officers ... ... ... 201 


Victoria Crosses 



The I 8th Division Memorial in Tkones Wood, where 

THE 54TH Brigade had some Heavy Fighting Frontispiece 

Facing Page 
Brigadier-General L. de V. Sadleir-Jackson, C.B., 

C.M.G., D.S.0 32 

Major-General T. H. Shoubridge, C.M.G., D.S.O. ... 33 

Major-General W. C. G. Heneker, C.M.G., D.S.O. ... 48 

Lieutenant-Colonel C. C. Carr, D.S.O. ... ... 49 

Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Sulman, M.C. ... ... 49 

Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Percival, D.S.O., M.C. ... 80 

The Late Lieutenant-Colonel G. R. Ripley ... ... 81 

Lieutenant-Colonel K. Turner, D.S.O. ... ... 81 

Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. C. M. Hore-Ruthven, 

D.S.O 96 

Major E. G. Miles, D.S.O., M.C 96 

Captain G. F. J. Cumberlege, D.S.O., M.C. ... ... 96 

Lieutenant-Colonel G. Pritchard-Taylor, D.S.O., 

M.C 97 

Major Campbell, D.S.O., M.C 97 

Major G. Ledgard, M.C. ... ... ... ... ... 128 

The Late Major G. Bremner, D.S.O., M.C. ... ... 128 

The Late Captain C. F. Pavitt, M.C. ... ... ... 129 

Captain E. M. West, M.C. ... ... ... ... ... 129 

The 54TH Infantry Brigade Battle Flags ... ... 144 

Battle Flag of the iith (S.) Battalion Royal 

Fusiliers ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 145 

Battle Flag of the 7TH (S.) and 2nd Battalions 

Bedfordshire Regiment ... ... ... ... 176 

Battle Flag of the 6th (S.) Battalion Northampton- 
shire Regiment ... ... ... ... ... ... 177 


Chapter I 


IT is a far cry from the early days of the war, when " Kitchener's 
* Army" was shaking down— with much fun, much faith, and 
much fervour, but little else in the way of uniform or equipment ! 
— to later days when the Service Battalions won their spurs and 
made glorious traditions for brigades that were as new and 
free from tradition as themselves. It is a story of hard work on 
the training ground and in the line, of cheery steadfastness 
through the darkest days, of a splendid contempt for pain and 
death, of hardship which none can realize except those who had 
it for their common round and daily task, but all brightened 
by so much fun and good comradeship that none who knew 
those days will look back on them without kindly memories. 

It is the story, among so many others, of the 54th Infantry 

Throw your mind back for a moment to those earliest 
days. At least one officer, happily a survivor of the Old 
Originals, has a vivid recollection of his first introduction 
to the 7th Bedfordshire Regiment. He arrived on an after- 
noon in the autumn of 19 14 at Liphook Station, and met 
one of his men on the platform. He gasped — I am not 
sure that he did not try to bolt, but he is silent on that 
point — for the man was radiant and happy in scarlet tunic 
with no belt, corduroy trousers, buttoned boots, and a black 
bowler hat. It hardly mattered, after that, that he had a civilian 
overcoat on his arm. And yet, I wonder whether we should not 
cheer, rather than laugh ? The men who could face the small 
boy in the street or the red-tabbed General alike in that fighting 
kit was not hkely to have any unwholesome dread of the Ger- 
mans ; and, after all, it was the men who rushed to join up in 
those early days, when rifles could not be had and uniforms had 
to be improvised, who were the salt of the New Armies. The 

I B 

world knows now that it is unsafe to provoke a nation that can 
be gaily grim and martial in a scarlet tunic and a bowler hat. 

More than four years later, on a cold, wet December day at 
Serain, on ground torn by the shell-fire of the last victorious 
push that ended the war, among the graves and debris of battle, 
the 54th Brigade, its fighting days done, paraded with the rest 
of the 1 8th Division for the last time. The Divisional Com- 
mander, Major-General R. P. Lee, C.B., afterwards published the 
following Order of the Day :— 

I was more than pleased with the review of the Division to- 
day, and congratulate all ranks on the turn-out and the ad- 
mirable precision which marked all the parade manoeuvres. 
It was a reflection of their glorious deeds. 

The Division has taken part in most of the great battles, 
from the Somme in 1916 down to the Armistice — i.e., " The 
Somme," " The Ancre," (both autumn and spring), " Arras," 
" Flanders," " The retreat from the Oise," " The Defence 
of Amiens," and lastly, " The Hundred Days' Victory." 

Throughout these historical operations the Division has 
proved itself equally strong both in attack and defence, 
and has earned a reputation second to none through the 
courage, resolution, and achievements of the officers, non- 
commissioned officers, and men that it is, and has been, 
my pride and privilege to command. 

I take this opportunity of again thanking you all for your 
unfailing loyalty, and of expressing my admiration for your 
gallantry and devotion to duty. 

That Order sketches, in a few words, the long story that lies 
between the early days of the Brigade in England and its last 
fight on the edge of Mormal Forest, just before the Armistice. 
The story as it is told in these pages is necessarily the work of 
many memories, and all ranks have contributed their recollec- 
tions and stories. Perhaps at times the fun of the long campaign 
rather than its tragedy may seem to predominate. There are 
many reasons for that. There are scenes and experiences that 
men will try to forget — certainly they will never sit down in cold 
blood to recall them — and perhaps one may best describe this 
story by slightly altering some lines of Kipling :— 

" We have written the tale of our life. 
For a sheltered people's mirth, 
In jesting guise ; but ye are wise. 
And ye know what the jest is worth." 

The 54th Brigade was formed in September, 19 14, under the 
command of Brigadier-General H. Browse-Scaife, and has ever 
been a part of the 18th Division. No finer Division ever left 
England, for it had a long and careful training under its first 

Commander, Lieut. -General Sir Ivor Maxse, C.B., C.V.O., 
D.S.O., one of the most famous trainers of men in the Army. 

The early period of training was spent at Colchester, first at 
Reed Hall Camp, and afterwards at Middle wick, out by the 
Rifle Range. The Brigade at first consisted of the following 
Service Battalions : — 

loth Royal Fu^liers. 
nth Royal Fusiliers. 
8th Royal Sussex Regiment. 
1 2th Middlesex Regiment. 

After a few days the loth Battalion Royal Fusiliers was 
replaced by the 6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, and 
in February, 1915, the 8th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment 
was made a Pioneer Battalion, and became Divisional troops, 
being replaced in the Brigade by the 7th Battalion Bedfordshire 
Regiment. As it completed its training and proceeded overseas, 
the Brigade thus consisted of : — 

nth Battalion The Royal Fusiliers. 

"th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. 

6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment. 
1 2th Battalion Middlese.x Regiment. 

The following units have also formed a part of the. Brigade 
throughout its history, and their officers and other ranks have 
ever been a part of the same cheery, " full o' heart " comrade- 
ship r — 

8oth Field Company, Royal Engineers. 
54th Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C. 
152nd Company, Royal Army Service Corps. 

The only other alterations to be recorded — and they will be 
dealt with at the proper time — are the merging of the 7th (S.) 
Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment in the 2nd (Regular) Battalion 
when the latter joined the Brigade in May, 191 8 ; and the dis- 
banding of the I2th Battalion Middlesex Regiment early in 1918, 
when Brigades in France were reorganized on a three-battalion 
basis, and the junior battalions, after much good and gallant 
work, had to go. If such battalions did not live to see that day 
when the old front line swept forward, and our troops re-entered 
Mons at the dramatic end of the Hundred Days' Victory, at 
least they will go down in history as having done their bit 
through the long, hard days of preparation to win those last 

Only with great difficulty was order evolved from chaos. The 
1 2 th Middlesex Regiment started with a draft of 500, which 
arrived at Colchester at 11 p.m. on September 4th. Telegrams 
had been received from the War Office, warning the Brigade of the 
probable arrival of 500, and ordering them to put up a camp 
and issue blankets. But the loth Royal Fusiliers also received 

B 2 

a telegram warning them of the arrival of 500 on the same day, 
and ordering them to find food and cooking utensils. So when 
the 500 arrived in the pitchy darkness, one can imagine the 
confusion between two groups of officers, both claiming the men. 
The matter could not be amicably settled until the next day, 
when further telegrams were exchanged with the War Office, 
and a ruling was obtained that the men were to be Middle- 
sex. Further complications had meanwhile arisen, as it was 
discovered that the conducting N.C.O. had disappeared during 
the night with the only nominal rolls. 

The history of the Brigade's early training is a history common 
to all New Army formatioris — much keenness and earnestness 
and fun, but also much ignorance, which was cheerfully recog- 
nized and tackled in the best of spirits. There were days when 
musketry seemed a hidden mystery, and to " form squad " 
on the move was to melt into a riot of distracted men. The 
officers were in many cases in worse plight than the men. Some 
already had experience in Yeomanry, Territorials, Public School 
and University Corps, but many had to pick up drill and mus- 
ketry from the beginning, as the men had, and, in addition, had 
to puzzle out the mysteries of map-reading, compass work, 
and minor tactics. Very often, and especially on night opera- 
tions, the best-laid plans went west, and an unhappy platoon 
commander would lose himself and his platoon, or march dog- 
gedly in a circle till the luck of the British Army or a rural 
policeman set him on the right road again. 

Even the most ingenious plans for meeting all difficulties had 
a knack of developing on lines that the wildest dreams of fun 
never anticipated. 

There was, for instance, the bright idea of a certain Adjutant 
— an idea which has never been tried in actual warfare to this 
day, so conservative are we. The battalion had to make a night 
advance on a certain position in line of platoons in four.s — an 
operation in which it is notoriously difficult to keep direction. 
Accordingly this officer stretched a rope from the centre of his 
battalion to the centre of the objective, and, to make doubly 
sure, stationed a man with a bicycle lamp at the enemy end of 
the rope. Every student of war will see at once that this was 
quite a new idea in minor tactics, and all would have gone well 
had not the Colonel, and everybody else whose good opinion 
was worth having, fallen over the rope in the darkness. Other- 
wise all went well ; the platoons walked cheerfully up the rope, 
and if there had been a real enemy, and they had been sporting 
enough to ignore 'the man with the cycle lamp sitting in the 
middle of their line, the thing must have been a huge success. 
But — except so far as this can be regarded as a serious military 
textbook — the idea has never been taken up warmly in training 

Two more night manoeuvres come to mind. In one, the 
battalion concerned had to do an approach march along a white 
tape. Unfortunately, a man of the " point," laying out the 
tape, unwittingly got hi.s foot caught in a loop, and then the 
most weird marching and counter-marching began. In and out. 
round and round they went, until eventually the foot came 
out of the loop, whereupon the battalion deployed and did a 
beautiful attack — but due S. instead of N.E. as had been in- 

In the other manoeuvre the 54th Brigade unluckily selected 
the same ground for a night attack as two battalions of another 
Brigade. The inevitable happened, and the fight when the 
opposing forces met was worthy of a melee of mediaeval warfare. 

In those days, so far as one remembers, the Brigade had 
only three " regulars " as regimental officers — Captain 
L. A. Newnham, Middlesex Regiment (our first Staff Captain, 
and at the time of writing Major on the General Staff of the 
XIII. Corps) ; Major M. Scarbrough, also of the Middlesex 
Regiment, killed at Thiepval ; and Captain P. Meautys, of 
the Bedfordshire Regiment, killed in June, 191 7, in front of 
Arras, when Brigade-Major of the 53rd Brigade. Of N.C.Os. 
who had been " regulars " there was but a handful. If 
premature grey hairs were their only immediate reward, as 
they toiled to set our feet in the right paths, and to impart 
some instinct for discipline, one can but hope that they were 
not ashamed of their pupils when the Service Battalions got 
to work in France. 

The selection of N.C.Os. was one of the earliest difficulties. 
" Take the case of the 12th Middlesex " (writes Major Newnham, 
in sending some interesting notes on those days). "Scarbrough 
and myself were the only two regular officers — in fact, the only 
officers for ten days — and there were 1,100 men to tackle, with 
only three N.C.Os. who had been regulars. 

" I went right through the battalion, asking each man what 
he had been. If I found a boy who had been in the Gordon 
Boys' Home, then I automatically found an N.C.O., for he at 
any rate knew how to number off a squad and form fours. One 
man I remember I made a Corporal at once for two reasons 
only — (i) That he could keep himself clean, and (2) that he 
had been a hawker of fish near Billingsgate, and consequently 
had an excellent voice, and was likely soon to get a good word 
of command ! And he did, and was an excellent N.C.O. 

" I wanted a physical training N.C.O. — nothing easier. A 
look round revealed the fact that ' The Lunatic Bakers ' from 
the ' Halls ' were in one company, and, after two days' instruc- 
tion, a fully fledged P.T. N.C.O. was mine." 

The fact that, though we were all comrades in a good cause, 
one does not hail a General by his nickname; and try to make 

him feel at home, took a little grasping. One wonders, for 
instance, whether any one has ever dared to remind Sir Ivor 
Maxse of a certain day when he was holding a " pow-wow " 
during some field operations. He was surrounded by his Staff 
and ail the Brigade and Battalion Commanders, when a hot 
and dirty private, towing a very bored-looking mule after him, 
pushed through the group, selected Sir Ivor himself out of the 
crowd, and demanded, " Where's the Bedford's transport ?" 

The General has some reputation for rising to the occasion, 
as an orator, when the situation demands, and one fears that, 
if the transport driver and his mule had faithfully followed the 
instructions given them, they would not have reached their 
own transport lines to this day. 

The same famous General seems to have had bad luck when 
it came to mules. At that time every Commanding Officer 
had two horses, and one day each battalion received orders 
that the C.O.'s second charger was to be sent to Brigade Head- 
quarters at an hour stated. A certain transport officer — with 
that delightful gift for doing the wrong thing if it would make 
a good story which cheered the Kitchener battalions on their 
way — jumped to the conclusion that it only meant that one 
horse was to be withdrawn and sent to another unit. He saw 
in this a Heaven-sent chance to get rid of hi§ worst mule — a 
tripod rather than a quadruped, for only three of its legs really 
worked — and personally dragged the unloved and unlovely 
animal to Headquarters at the appointed time. There he 
learned, to his horror, that each battalion was to parade an 
animal for Sir Ivor Maxse to select a second charger for himself. 
Before the mule could be dragged away, or shot and thrown 
down the nearest drain, the General appeared, and was con- 
fronted by the proposal that he should consider the claims of 
the three-legged beast to become his spare mount. I have 
never quite got out of the hero of the story what the General 
really did say — he has tried, but confesses himself unable to 
do justice to the purple patches. 

There is an old cobbler in a village near Colchester who had 
the surprise of his life while some of the R.A.S.C. train attached 
to the Brigade was billeted in the neighbourhood. A very 
new and very keen young officer had just arrived, and decided 
to have a look at the regimental saddler's shop. The gods of 
mischance — who, as I have already said, did so much to cheer 
us in those early days — sent him in error to the tiny shop where 
the village cobbler sat at work. 

The officer bounced in, said, " All right, my man, don't trouble 
to get up " — the cobbler had certainly shown no signs of doing 
so — and added, " Seems rather stuffy and untidy here ; still, 
I suppose it's all right — carry on !" and bounced out again. 
It was not tactful to mention village cobblers to him after that, 
if you wanted a pass or a drink. 

Most people will mention Middlewick Camp as a very draughty 
spot. On November nth a real East Coast gale blew over the 
countryside. Tents were blown down right and left, canteen 
tents especially catching it badly, and the whole camp was 
flooded out. The Brigade Headquarters marquees were wrecked, 
and all the precious papers were blown all over the camp, 
thereby considerably easing the " returns " problem. The bill 
for damaged tentage came to about ;^ 1,500, and the next day 
orders were received to go into billets in Colchester. 

The first casualty in the Brigade was a man in the nth Royal 
Fusiliers, who was badly wounded on January i8th, 1915, 
whilst walking over the entrenching area behind the butts of 
the rifle range at Donyland. A stray went over and hit him 
so badly that he died the following day. 

On February 21st, 1915, the Brigade first experienced the 
Bosche and his " hate," a German aeroplane coming over and 
dropping bombs on Colchester. 

There came at last a day in this Colchester period when 
uniforms and equipment were complete. The wonderful scarlet 
and blue uniforms, with headgear which varied from glen- 
garries and golf caps to bowler hats, gave place to khaki. And 
— one was always learning new things of military importance — 
one learned that uniform might really fit without spoiling a 
man's efficiency. Hitherto, for some obscure reason which 
has baffled the scientist, a tall man always got a dwarf's outfit 
of the workhouse garb in which we began our military careers. 
But now all had real khaki, and real equipment, and real rifles. 
It was a proud moment ; officers and men alike now felt that 
Heaven was possible but unnecessary. 

Then began more strenuous days. Equipment had to be 
fitted and packs packed — do you remember the feehng, when 
you had all the Christmas tree on, including full pack, and thought 
you could hardly walk across the room ? And when all was 
ready, the Brigade set out on " field work " in real earnest. 
There was the Ipswich-Woodbridge-Hollesley Bay trek, for 
instance, in full marching order, covering always twenty-five and 
sometimes thirty miles a day, with tactical schemes thrown in — • 
advanced guards, outpost, attacks — in which you did " short 
rushes," with periods of repose flat on your face in ploughed 
fields in between, and all the rest of the fun. It was hard 
work, but they were jolly days, trudging along the roads, with 
home-made marching songs to swing the tired legs and take 
the mind off the blistered heel or the heavy pack. 

There was one song of that period — how many good fellows 
who sang it will rest for ever behind the old line in France ! — 
which will be remembered by all who tramped those roads by 
the East Coast. Set down now on paper, in cold blood, it 

doesn't look very inspired or inspiring, but those who survive 
will remernber how we roared out the " Hollesley Bay Song " : 

" There's a place down in Suffolk called Hollesley Bay, 
We 'ad orders to go there and walk all the way. 
Twenty odd miles we marched every day, 
And that's how we got down to Hollesley Bay. 

Refrain : 
" Hold yer row ! Hold yer row ! 

We ain't said a word about half what's occurred. 

Hold yer row ! What d'yer say ? 

We knew every milestone to Hollesley Bay. 

" Now, while we were stationed at Hollesley Bay, 
1 he sick they paraded in scores every day. 
And the doctor when he saw them cried in dismay, 
' 'Ow on earth did yer manage to walk all this way ? 

" While we were stationed at Hollesley Bay, 
We went to a church about ten miles away, 
And the people who saw us they all ran away, 
For they'd heard what we'd said about Hollesley Bay. 

Refrain : 
" Hold yer row ! Hold yer row ' 
We ain't said a word about half what's occurred. 
Hold yer row ! What d'yer say ? 
We learned some new swear words at Hollesley Bay. 

On March 19th the Brigade had its first ceremonial inspec- 
tion, by Sir Archibald Murray, then Sub-Chief of the Imperial 
General Stalf. A snowstorm swept over the ground while the 
battalions awaited his arrival, and there was a bitter cold wind, 
but the men were quite steady on parade, and all went off 

Early in May, 19 15, the Brigade moved by road to Hertford, 
a three days' trek, and there entrained for Codford, on Salis- 
bury Plain, where the rest of the days of preparation in England 
were spent. There " intensive field days " set in with more 
severity than ever, and the days of hard marching and great 
expenditure of blank, both ammunition and language, aroutid 
Stony Hill and other training areas were things to remember. 

Sport was not neglected, and the 54th has ever been a good 
sporting Brigade. Many will remember that great cross- 
country run on the Plain on May 29th, 1915, when Lieut. - 
Colonel (then Captain) A. E. Percival, of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment, was the first officer home, and Sergeant Rickard, 
of the same battalion, the first of the other ranks. Sergeant 
Rickard, unfortunately, was killed in the Brigade's first big 
show, the capture of Pommiers' Redoubt, at the opening of 
the Somme offensive of July ist, 1916. There were 500 starters 
per battalion. The Bedfordshire Regiment won first place as 
a team (each team was a trifle of 500 strong), and the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment was second. The first 300 home of each 

battalion counted for points, one for the first man, two for the 
second, three for the third, and so on, and 2,000 points for every 
man who did not finish within twenty minutes of the winner, 
the team with the fewest points winning. Major Newnham, 
who organized the race, sat up till the early hours of the next 
morning getting out the results. The final calculations ran 
into millions. Try it for yourself. 

At this time bombing was a new, or rather a revived, art in 
the British Army, and there were some hair-raising moments 
when the Brigade settled down to master the art and to con- 
duct their own experiments. The idea was to fill a jam-tin 
with old nails and bits of horse-shoe (the latter, possibly, in 
the pathetic and ill-founded belief that it would bring luck), 
and to learn by rule-of-thumb how best to explode it with as 
little inconvenience to yourself and as much annoyance to your 
hostile " opposite nimiber " as possible. 

There were moments when the luck-bringing properties of 
the bits of old horse-shoe did not " function " properly, and 
the bombing officer, with his enthusiastic N.C.Os., were men 
to be avoided. They would mix and experiment till it seemed 
as though the explosives had been trained to feed out of their 
hands, and then suddenly some long-suffering chunk of gun- 
cotton would protest with much flame and noise. One day 
Lieutenant Smith, Brigade Bombing Officer, was mixing some 
chemicals together, with the rapt enthusiasm of a mediaeval 
alchemist scrounging for the philosopher's stone, when the 
whole thing went up. Just why the spectators — Corporal 
Twiggs (now Sergeant, and wearing the D.C.M. for a bombing 
affair in the trenches), who was sitting on a box of gun-cotton, 
and Corporal Turner, who was kneeling on a case of detonators — 
did not go up too is a part of the history of the everlasting luck 
of bombing enthusiasts. 

No empty jam-tin was safe from the conspirators. It might 
be your most prized possession, but if you left it out of your 
sight for a few moments, you would return to find it filled with 
explosives and rusty nails, complete with fuse. The home-made 
" hair-brush " bomb was a special joy. On a " hair-brush " 
of wood was lashed a slab of gun-cotton, with primer and 
detonator in the centre. Demonstrations were given in the 
evening, and these became quite smart affairs, to which officers 
brought their wives, knowing that there would always be plenty 
of fun and excitement. 

So the cheery days went by — darkened only by the fear 
(how fantastic it seems now !) that the war would be over before 
the Brigade could get out — till at last the eagerly awaited 
orders came ; and on July 26th, 1915, the Brigade landed in 
France, to begin a fighting career that was to last well over 
three years. 

Even the mules came over, though they developed con- 
scientious objections at embarkation, and caused harassed 
transport officers to apply vainly on the quayside for transfers 
to the Flying Corps, or any other branch of the service where 
mules are unknown. Captain Browning, of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment, was then transport officer to his battalion, and 
through the sunny hours of a July afternoon his mules per- 
sisted in sitting down in the gangway. Hot and tired men, 
in a hurry to get to the war, reminded those mules of their 
blotted pedigree and tried to shame them into embarkation, 
but the mules only sat and smiled. At last, after three hours' 
exertion, the last mule had been pushed and heaved on board, 
and all was ready for the opening of the great adventure. 

A niche in the Temple of Fame must be found for the cele- 
brated billeting party that came over to France with the Brigade. 
It consisted of an officer from each battalion, and the Staff 
Captain, and all were mounted on motor-bikes. How the 
bikes were smuggled, across is another story, and quite unfit 
for the pure ears of any high authority who may some day 
find this book in a dentist's waiting-room. As a hint for the 
next war, let it be said that one bike was " stripped " and con- 
cealed in the battalion transport, a wheel in one limber, the 
engine in another, and so on. Captain Newnham's posed as 
a signal's machine. But the party landed safe with motor- 
bikes, and got on with the good work,. 

Chapter II 


■tlTHEN the Brigade arrived in France, in the summer of 1915, 
"' things were by no means comfortable or rosy. People in 
England, who saw the New Armies training on every country- 
side, and pouring overseas, might talk gaily of peace by Christ- 
mas ; and the old men, or the men in comfortable jobs, might 
cry stoutly, " Go on, boys, give 'em hell !" But the boys who 
knew most about hell knew what a very one-sided hell it was 
while we were waiting for guns and ammunition. 

The situation at that time was well summed up by " Ian 
Hay " in a lecture to American troops some years later. Speak- 
ing of the arrival of the first Brigades of the New Army in 
France in mid- '15, he said : 

" True, we now had the men, but we had not the munitions. 
All we could do for the present was to stick our toes in, play 
for time, and harass the enemy, while back at home behind 
us the factories were being erected and the machinery laid down, 
and men and women — more especially women — were working 
night and day, Sundays, weekdays, Christmas and holiday 
time included, to turn out the tale of guns and shells for our 
purposes, until at last we could say as a nation, ' We are ready ; 
full speed ahead.' 

" Out on the Western Front we had to wait a long time for 
that message. In the summer of 1915 it never came at all. 
All during that summer the trenches were held, grimly and 
doggedly, by men who, a year previously, had been peaceful 
farmers, or mechanics, or miners, or clerks — men with no 
military tradition to uphold them. Our supply of gun ammuni- 
tion in those days was limited to three or four shells per gun 
per day, and the guns themselves were not plentiful. If the 
Hun shelled our front-line trenches, as he did at least twice a 
day, and the parapet began to fly up in the air, and you got 
to the wire and telephoned to the artillery behind for retalia- 
tion, too often the answer came back : ' Very sorry, nothing 
doing till to-morrow.' The best we could hope for was to 
save our scanty supply of ammunition during a few quiet days, 
and then indulge in a real good outburst of retaliation — ^say, 
on Saturday afternoon. For the rest of the time we sat at the 
bottom of our trenches and wished for happier days. It was 
not a pleasant experience ; but all the while we were learning 
and learning, and finding our feet, and^ acquiring the priceless 
art of playing a poor hand." 

The first few months of the Brigade in France were devoted 
to this learning, and then came long months of holding on 
grimly while the Germans treated us to those " hates " which 
we had neither the guns nor the shells to return. 

Training was carried out at first in the Corbie area, and 
late in August came instructional tours in the line, the bat- 
tahons being attached to Brigades that had already served 
their apprenticeship in the trenches. 

The first ^Jay, and more especially the first night, in the 
line is a turning-point in a man's life. He finds that, as regards 
being really scared and jumpy and downright uncomfortable, 
previous experiences do not count. He has come up against 
one of the great tests of his manhood. If he can stand up to his 
job cheerfully, fight down fear, and carry on with a smile and 
a jest, he has passed his entrance examination, and may look 
to the next ordeal, " going over the top," with any sense of 
pleasurable anticipation he can muster. 

There are still many who recall the Brigade's first experience 
of the line, before they had learned those arts of making them- 
selves nearly comfortable and almost safe which distinguish the 
seasoned battalions. One of them will remember to the end 
how far he felt from home and hope and help when, just before 
midnight, a Scottish officer took him to what appeared the 
weakest and loneliest spot in the whole line, and said : " There, 
laddie, you'll be on duty from twelve till four. This is the 
front fine, the Germans are very close, and a mine's going up 
at dawn." Exit Scottish officer, leaving behind him one British 
officer complete with " wind up." 

Instructional tours bring over, the Brigade took over a 
sector of the line early in September, 1915, opposite Fricourt. 
The Brigade front was divided into two sectors — D.i on the 
right, and D.2 on the left. At first D.i was held by the Fusi- 
hers and the Northamptonshire Regiment, and D.2 by the 
Bedfordshire and Middlesex Regiments. This arrangement 
held good till the end of November, when battalions changed 
over, the Bedfordshire and Middlesex Regiments going to D.i, 
and the Fusiliers and Northamptonshire Regiment to D.2. 

Great places for " wind up," those front line trenches in the 
early days of the new battalions, when all was strange, and 
every shadow was a German attack. Imagine the discomfort 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment company commander to whom a 
]mtrol reported the discovery in No Man's Land of a trap-door 
leading to an underground tunnel, from which sounds of mining 
could be heard. It was the battalion's first tour in the trenches ; 
appreciation of Hun ingenuity ran high, and there were visions 
of a surprise attack from the mystery shaft. After some con- 
sultation the bombing officer and his corporal were sent for, 
and, without any undue display of delight at the job, went 


out to investigate. After throwing several bombs at the " trap- 
door," they withdrew for assistance. Finally, the spot was 
reached, and the origin of the scare was found to be nothing 
more alarming than tlie top of an old tin can ! And, believe 
me, there were times when a certain patrol got almost tired of 
hearing about mysterious trap-doors in No Man's Land. 

It was in the same part of the line, and at about the same 
period, that a certain intelligence officer, who possessed that 
vivid imagination which is supposed to make for success in 
modern war, reported one day, " Smoke seen issuing from 

enemy trench at ." The next day he reported, " Sound 

of oil-engine in enemy trench at — ■ — ■," adding : " It is thought 
this may be connected with the smoke seen yesterday, and in- 
dicates enemy mining." This was sheer genius, almost too 
delicate and rare for the rough-and-tumble of trench warfare, 
and when the intelligence officer had sufficiently impressed the 
idea that tlie Germans were motoring underground to out- 
flank us from below, a raid was organized to cut out the supposed 
engine. It is just here that the story breaks away from the 
Jules Verne or H. G. Wells touch and ends on the dull fact 
that the raiders found no trace of any engine, and the intelli- 
gence officer ceased to attach any importance to the smoke of 
German trench cookery. 

Two other instances of funny remarks in intelligence sum- 
manes come to mind. In one, " Smoke as from a cooking 
fire " was reported. The reasoning by which smoke from a 
cooking fire could be distinguished from smoke from any other 
fire was not included in the report. The other instance was 
the quite famous report (from the Bedfordshire Regiment, I 
think) that a pigeon had been seen " flying in a suspicious 
manner " over Fricourt ! 

There was full reason to watch and listen carefully for any 
signs of underground activity, for mining was a constant feature 
of this part of the line, especially in the D.i sector. 

The rocking of the ground, the caving-in of one's firmest and 
best revetted trenches, the confusion in the darkness and shell- 
ing, the hasty digging and building up with sandbags, peering 
into the depths of the new crater and seeing the blue flickering 
of gas-fumes at the bottom, all help to make that form of war- 
fare very easy to remember. 

Never a week passed without a mine going up, and one week 
the measures to drive away boredom and dull care included the 
blowing of five mines, so that at last No Man's Land was nothing 
but a huge crater. They were exciting and ticklish days, for 
one never knew when the trench underfoot would go up, as it 
was known that while the French held this part of the line the 
Germans had been mining and tunnelling in all directions. 


The following extracts from a diary show how frequent these 
mine episodes were : — 

October 3, 1915. — Enemy blew up a trench mine opposite 82 (Bois Fran- 
<;ais). Some of our parapet damaged, and seven casualties by subsequent 
rifle and shell fire. Otherwise quiet day. 

October 5. — Enemy blew mine opposite trench 77. About 40 yards of para- 
pet knocked down. Two officers and eight men gassed above ground ; five 
miners killed below ground. 

October 7. — We blew a mine in D.i which turned out a much bigger explo- 
sion than had been expected. It is thought that a German mine must have 
been exploded by ours, as a red flame went up, usually noticed in (German 

October 8, 5.30 p.m. — Enemy blew up a mine opposite trench 79. Buried 
two of our mining officers and destroyed 50 yards of a new shaft. 7 p.m. — We 
blew a large mine opposite 81. Very little damage to our parapet. 

October 13. — Enemy fired mine in D. i. No damage and no casualties, 

October 14. — Enemy blew a mine in C.2. (Sector on our right.) 

October 20. — Enemy blew a mine in D.i. No damage. 

October 23. — Enemy blew a mine in D. 

October 24. — Enemy blew another mine in D.i (opposite 80. B). 

October 25. — Enemy blew mine in D.i. Little damage, but one killed and 
three wounded when making sap out to crater-edge. 

Those brief matter-of-fact jottings give some idea of a " quiet 
month in the sector. 

November ist was another cheery day. In the middle of 
the morning the enemy blew a mine in D.i, and brought df)wn 
a good stretch of our parapet. Our turn came just after dusk, 
when, says the diarist : — 

" We blew three mines (large ones) in D.i. They formed 
two large craters. Considerable damage was done to our own 
parapet, but still more must have been done to the enemy's." 
[Can't you see the cheery philosopher sitting among the ruins 
of his own trench, laughing to think that the Germans were 
probably having an even worse time!] "Northamptonshire 
llegiment immediately reconnoitred the new craters, which 
were about twenty yards from our front hne, and then occupied 
the near edges and dug themselves in very successfully. Casual- 
ties, one officer and one man killed, four men wounded. The 
night was dark and wet, and the trenches extremely muddy, 
besides being blocked by fallen parapets, so that this opera- 
tion was not an easy one, and reflected great credit on tlie 

While on the subject of mines, another little experience; at 
a later date, is worth telling here. A mine was to go up under 
the German front Hne at about 4.30 p.m. on January i8th, 
1916, and Lieutenant Sherwell and 2nd-Lieutenant Driver, of 
the Bedfordshire Regiment, who were then in the line, were 
detailed to inspect and report on the damage done. 

They were each accompanied by a party of bombers, and were 
instructed to proceed to the mine crater as soon as it was formed, 
one party working round the right and one round the left. 
It was quite dark, but the crater was located, and eventually 
the two parties met on the farther side of the lip, and a council 


of war was held. In view of the fact that the crater had been 
formed in No Man's Land, some twenty yards from the Bosche 
wire, it was decided to push on to the Bosche trench and see if 
the explosion had done any damage. Thereupon two very 
windy officers, followed in single file by the bombing parties, 
with great difficulty scrambled through the wire, only to find 
the enemy trench undamaged and deserted immediately opposite 
the crater. 

Orders were then given (and smartly obeyed) for the return 
trip. All got back safely across the wire except 2nd-Lieutenant 
Driver, who was unable to extricate himself from the entangle- 
ments which held him in a very uncomfortable position, and 
with no one to help. To add to the unpleasantness, the Germans 
began to return to their deserted bit of trench, and started 
putting up light. He was at once spotted, and the Bosche 
lost no time in taking pot-shots at him. He had lost his revolver 
and used up all his bombs, and thoroughly disliked his position, 
but managed to get away unscathed by slipping out of his 
bomb-jacket and leaving it and portions of his clothing attached 
to the wire. He was later on wounded in the arm by a bullet, 
which also killed an officer (2nd-Lieutenant Whatmore) next 
to him. 

Though the mine had not gone off in the right place, the 
Bedfordshire Regiment consoUdated that night the left- and 
right-hand lips of the crater, and thus the night's effort was 
not altogether without success, for we could now see by day 
and night into the Bosche lines. 

On October 5th a platoon of the 7th Oxfordshire and Buck- 
inghamshire Light Infantry had a bad time while attached to 
the Bedfordshire Regiment for instruction. They arrived while 
the enemy were having a " hate " with heavy trench mortars 
at £ome houses in the rear of the trenches near Fricourt. The 
cellar into which they were put was struck, and most of them 
were buried. Men of " C " and " D " companies, Bedfordshire 
Regiment, promptly began to dig them out, but were them- 
selves buried by a second hit on the same house. The casualties 
were eight killed and twenty-six wounded, of whom seven were 

Dr. Cecil Powell, then Medical Officer of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment, went to the rescue, and was about to begin digging 
out the survivors when a man buried up to the neck in bricks 
and mortar looked at him and gasped : " Gawd Almighty ! it's 
Dr. Powell, the man I most want to see." The man was one 
of his former patients, and lived near his surgery in England. 
Neither of them had known that the other was in France. 

The " nervy " conditions of trench warfare, especially for a 
new battalion, when every man had a bullet or bomb for every 
unexpected shadow, led to some unpleasantly narrow escapes 
from one's own comrades. Colonel Percival, of the Bedford- 


shire Regiment, had an experience of this in October, 191 5, 
when, as a company commander, he was going round his trenches 
at night. He turned into a sap to visit a Hstening-post ; but 
the post had been moved, and through some bkinder he had 
not been informed. So he sat down and Hstened, but his 
meditations were rudely interrupted by Lieutenant Kingdon, 
who, knowing nothing of his presence, wliispered hoarsely : 
" Private Williams and Private Jones will make a bomfjing 
attack down the sap, while Private Pink and Private Bundy 
will cover the exit of the trench with Lewis gun lire." It was 
at this point that a rather perturbed captain cancelled the whole 

Tell that story in any gathering of officers of the Brigade, 
and one at least will cap it with a somewhat similar story of 
the same sector. Between two companies was a very bad 
piece of trench. One night the left sentry of the right company 
reported to the officer on duty that he had fired at a figure 
which had disappeared, into the aforementioned trench. The 
officer at once seized some bombs and went off in search of the 
figure, which sprang up and made off in the opposite direction, 
hotly pursued with bombs. The next morning an officer who 
had only arrived in the line the previous day came across to 
see the company commander, and explained that he had tried 
to keep in touch the previous night, but had met with consider- 
able opposition ! 

As already hinted, shortage of guns and shells put us on 
rather uneven terms with the Germans at this time. They 
would have a big " hate " with hundreds of shells, and all we 
could do was to nurse our annoyance till our next lot of shells 
came up, and then let him have two, if not three ! 

During a lull in a big strafe, when Jerry had been knocking 
our trenches to blazes with all sorts of stuff, one of our officers 
shouted across, " If you don't stop that, we'll throw over at 
least two bombs ! ' ' — and for some unknown reason the Germans 
soon afterwards stopped. Perhaps the game was getting too 
one-sided even for them. 

Once while the Northamptonshire Regiment was in the line, 
a German trench mortar had been giving them a deal of trouble 
and causing a lot of casualties. Captain Beacham, then adju- 
tant of the battalion, took a runner with him one afternoon 
and went up to the front-line posts to try and locate this trench 
mortar, and have it knocked out by artillery. He succeeded 
in locating the place, and sent the runner back to the telephone 
dug-out with a message to the gunners to fire one round, giving 
the map reference as near as possible. Soon afterwards the 
shell came over. " Go back and tell the gunners to fire another 
round a hundred yards right," said Captain Beacham ; and 
back the runner went to the telephone dug-out. After the 
second shell was fired, the adjutant again sent back a message 


to the artillery to lengthen their range fifty yards. Over came 
the third shell, but it was not quite on the spot. " Tell them to 
fire another round twenty yards right, and we've got it," said 
the adjutant. Back went the runner with the message. Then 
came the reply over the wire : " Is this really necessary, as we 
have only two more rounds to last until Friday ?" This answer 
was duly delivered to the adjutant. " For God's sake tell 
them to keep them !" he replied ; " we might have a S.O.S. 
to-night !" 

It is only fair to say that, in spite of their handicaps, the 
gunners did some fine work with their few precious shells. On 
September 13th, 1915, we had a good little show with the 
artillery covering our front. A certain snipers' post and big 
hump of clay in the " Bois Allemand " were very worrying to 
us. One night an i8-pounder was brought up to within 300 
yards of the front line and emplaced. The next evening at 
dusk the thin emplacement in front was suddenly broken down, 
and the gunners fired forty rounds of high explosive, point- 
blank range, as fast as they could. The snipers' post went up 
in clouds and worried us no more. The gun was hauled back 
quickly into a quarry before the Bosche could gather what was 
happening, and later that night was horse-drawn away, with 
no casualties. 

So a second winter came down on the trenches, bringing new 
discomforts and dangers and new tasks to the men who held 
the line. What it meant was well summed up in Sir Douglas 
Haig's despatch, dated May 19th, 19 16, in which, describing 
those months, he wrote : 

" The maintenance and repair of our defences alone, especially 
in winter, entails constant heavy work. Bad weather and the 
enemy combined to flood and destroy trenches, dug-outs, and 
communications. All such damages must be repaired promptly, 
under fire, and almost entirely by night. 

" Artillery and snipers are practically never silent, patrols 
are out in front of the lines every night, and heavy bombardments 
by the artillery of one or both sides take place daily in various 
parts of the line. Below ground there is continual mining and 
countermining, which, by the ever-present threat of sudden 
explosion and the uncertainty as to when and where it will take 
place, causes perhaps a more constant strain than any other 
form of warfare." 

And here is another vivid little picture, from the pen of my 
friend Phillip Gibbs : — 

"The New Armies were learning. They were bearing the 
hardships, the cruelties, the brutalities of war, and had to suffer 
and ' stick ' it. They were learning the craft of modern warfare 
in trenches, mine-shafts, and saps, behind field-guns and 
' heavies,' and they had to pay for their lessons in blood and 
agony. . . . Dead bodies were heaped there, buried and un- 

buried. They dug into corruption when they tried to dig a 
trench. Men sat on dead bodies when they peered through their 
periscopes. They ate and slept with the stench of death in 
their nostrils. Below them were the enemy mine-shafts. 
Beyond them were our own mine-shafts. It was a competition 
in blowing up the tumbled earth, and men fought like devils 
with bombs and bayonets over mine-craters which had buried 
another score or so of men." 

It was in such conditions as these that the 54th Brigade 
carried on through their first winter, and if the story I tell 
dwells on the humour — the rather forced humour, perhaps — 
of this period, it is because the men who endured those days 
seem to remember rather the funny side of that grim tragedy. 
PhiUip Gibbs, whom I have just quoted, attempts an explana- 
tion : — 

" They cultivated cheerfulness as the first law of daily life, 
and they succeeded wonderfully in spite of the filthy trenches, 
the rats and vermin, the ice-cold water in which they waded up 
to the front Une during the long months of a Flemish winter, 
the trench feet which for a time — till rubbing-drill was adopted 
— drained the strength of many battalions, and the enemy's 
shell fire and mining activities, which took a daily toll of life 
and limb. Many of them found a gruesome humour in all this, 
laughed at death as a low comedian, guffawed if they dodged 
its knock-about tricks by the length of a traverse, and did not 
go very sick if it laid out their best pal. ' You know, sir, it 
doesn't do to take this war too seriously.' So said a sergeant to 
me as we stood in a trench beyond our knees in water. It was 
a great saying, and I saw the philosophy which had kept men 
sane. Without laughter, somehow, anyhow, by any old jokes, 
we should have lost the war long ago. The only way to avoid 
deadly depression was to keep smiling. And so, for laughter's 
sake and to keep normal in abnormal ways of life, there was 
a great unconscious conspiracy of cheerfulness among officers 
and men." 

The first Christmas in the line passed off quietly. The 
Northamptonshire and Middlesex Regiments were in the trenches, 
having relieved the Fusiliers and Bedfordshire Regiment on 
Christmas Eve. The Middlesex Regiment held their Christmas 
festivities on December 22nd, before going into the trenches ; 
and the Northamptonshire Regiment on January 2nd, 1916, on 
returning from that tour. 

The entry in the Brigade diary for December 25th is : — 
" Christmas Day. Very quiet. Enemy showed no signs of 
wishing to fraternize. If they do, troops have orders to fire at 
once. Our men in billets had special Christmas dinners, etc." 

But the days that followed were by no means quiet or un- 
eventful. Says the diarist on Boxing day : " Our artillery carried 
out a fairly extensive bombardment of enemy front-line trenches 


and houses in south end of Fricourt. We withdrew men from 
left half of front trenches during bombardment." 

The occasion was the first appearance of some heavier guns 
on our part of the line. The staff from all neighbouring forma- 
tions gathered to witness a strafe, which resulted, at the end of 
an hour, in Fricourt boasting one or two houses less — but only, 
as we were to find to our cost, at the expenditure of the whole 
of the next week's supply of ammunition. 

The Germans retaliated the next evening, hammering trenches 
86 and 89 in D.2 Sector (held by Nos. 4 and 5 Platoons of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment) until they were almost flattened,' 
and also sending over a lot of tear-gas shells. After a while the 
fire was lifted from these trenches and put down on support 
trenches in rear, and also on trenches on either side. This 
" box barrage " isolated a part of the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment's front in the region of the sunken road running from the 
station, which we held, into Fricourt itself. A party of about 
twenty Germans then came over, bombed out some cellars near 
the station, and marched about sixteen of our men back. Three 
of our men, including one wounded by a bomb, did not leave the 
cellars, and, escaping attention, managed to reach the rest of 
their battalion. 

The whole affair was a chapter of accidents. The officer 
commanding the platoon which suffered was absent, bad weather 
in the Channel having delayed his return from leave. The 
platoon-sergeant had just gone on leave that day, and a lance- 
sergeant left in charge had gone to see his company commander, 
and had been gassed on the way back. The day sentry post had 
been knocked out, and in the absence of a responsible leader 
all the nineteen men took refuge in a cellar without leaving a 
sentry at the spot where the Germans entered. The platoons 
on the right and left stood to when the bombardment opened, 
and as soon as it was known that Germans had come over 
bombing parties were sent out. One German who had appar- 
ently lost his way was found in our trenches and dealt with. 

This was the Brigade's first experience of a trench raid ; 
indeed, it was the first on the Divisional front, and the use of 
tear-gas shells was also a novelty to us, accounting for a good 
deal of confusion. It was noted that the German raiders wore 
gas-helmets of what were then called the " snout " pattern. 

The old year passed away without further excitement, the 
days from December 3rst to January 6th being recorded as 
" very quiet." So the first months in the trenches ended, 
and the Brigade entered on the eventful year of 1916. 


Chapter III 


I^NE of the earliest events of 1916 was the opening of the first 
. ^-^ course at the Brigade Bombing School (on January 3rd) 
under Lieutenant Smith, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, with 
Major Newnham as a very active and inventive spirit. 

With these two officers as chief conspirators, bombing was one 
of the Brigade's leading shows, and all through the autumn of 
191 5 experiments had been going on, and a bomb factory set 
up at Meaulte. This passion of toying with insecurely harnessed 
forces, which marks the bombing enthusiast, makes him shunned 
by his fellows and drives him from the haunts of men. When 
these outcasts first arrived with the Brigade in France, they 
set up the making of jam-tin bombs in a pigsty at Talmas, 
from which the pig very gladly withdrew. 

Experiments in the line were largely concerned with 
catapults and other devices for delivering our latest samples of 
bombs in the Bosche lines. The catapult, home-made with 
elastic on tall uprights, and released by a trigger, was a treach- 
erous affair, for you never knew when it would develop pro- 
German mania and lob its bomb gently among the group of 
British spectators. Demonstrations were frequently given, 
especially when the bombing officer had a new idea to test, 
and German snipers were promptly located and reported to 
him by pleasure-seekers of the Brigade. 

Only one success by the catapult is recorded, and that was at 
the expense of a German sniper opposite D.2, who entered into 
the fun of the thing, and had a pretty wit which it was a pity 
to spoil. When the bomb had been duly slung over, this German 
would signal an " inner " or an " outer " with a spade. At 
last the catapult evidently scored a bull, for the spade went up 
with the other debris of the explosion, and the signals were 
made no more. 

One of the first D.C.Ms, awarded in the Brigade went to Ser- 
geant Twiggs, then bombing sergeant of the Bedfordshire Regi- 
ment, as a result of the catapult's vagaries. A ball bomb had 
been placed in it, but the trigger failed to act, and the bomb was 
due to go off in two or three seconds. There was a pretty general 
scamper round the traverse, the general feeling being that the 
catapult deserved all it got ; but Sergeant Twiggs picked out the 
bomb and threw it over the parapet just in time. 

As the catapult had too little discipline and a great deal too 
much initiative, experiments were made by Major Newnham 

at the Brigade bomb factory at Mcaulte, which resulted in the 
production of the rifle grenade much as we know it to-day. 
It may be that others were experimenting on the same lines at 
the same time, and it is claimed that engineers at G.H.Q. also 
evolved the idea ; while a Mills patent dated some months earlier 
described a means of firing a hand-grenade from a rifle by means 
of a rod-attachment. But no results from these ideas had ar- 
rived anywhere near the troops in the line at the time I am 
writing of, and the rifle-grenade as used by the Brigade was the 
home-made affair invented by Major Newnham. 

First experiments were made in October, 19 15, by inserting 
bodily a No. i G.S. " Fishtail " hand-grenade in the barrel of 
a i^-inch Very pistol, both the light and the grenade being pro- 
jected. Further experiments were made, which included screw- 
ing a wooden shaft on the base-plug of a Mills bomb, the lever 
being held within the muzzle, so that it was not released till 
the bomb had been projected. With this device a range of from 
80 to 100 yards was obtained. 

In November demonstrations were given at Meaulte before 
a number of general officers, including General Allenby (then 
commanding the Third Army), General Morland (then com- 
manding the loth Corps), and our own Divisional Commander, 
Sir Ivor Maxse. All were very interested, and Sir Ivor urged 
that experiments should be continued, but with a service rifle 
instead of a Very pistol. 

Accordingly the now familiar rod was fixed to the base-plug 
of the Mills grenade, and the Brigade factory began turning out 
loo a week. The number may have been small, but no other 
rifle grenade of similar properties was then to be had in the 
Division, and the troop.« were delighted with this means of 
getting on more even terms with the Germans and their stick- 

The Brigade bomb factory was a great centre of activity, 
and there the enthusiasts gathered for their deadly work and 
worship. It was run by a sapper in the 80th Field Company, 
R.E., lent for the purpose, who fixed up lathes, forges, etc., 
and did excellent work. An old motor-engine, lacking a mag- 
neto, was looted from Albert. An old magneto was " borrowed " 
from a despatch rider, who duly reported it " lost," and the 
bombing staff voted it a jolly good war. 

The West-gun afforded some excitement, and both Major 
Newnham and Sergeant Twiggs will remember some experiments 
when they were trying to improvise some method for using it to 
fire No. I " Fish-tails." 

The grenade under experiment was a percussion grenade, 
whereas the West-gun (an arrangement of springs) was primarily 
intended for firing time (ball) grenades. They did not allow 
sufficiently for the pressure produced by the jar of the springs, 
with the result that the moment Sergeant Twiggs pressed the 

firing lever the grenade exploded in the cup, luckily only injuring 
him slightly. 

Others have reason to remember the West-gun also, for it 
gave them many bright moments in the trenches. Admirers 
said the gun only wanted expert handling ; its best friends 
never claimed that it was fool-proof, and its early trials in 
D.2 in September, 1915, nearly spoilt the war for the experi- 

Some practice was attempted at the Bosche trenches at a 
point where they were 170 yards away. An officer who was 
present has supplied the following record of the results : 

ist Slwt.^Bomh fell 20 yards short. 

2nd Shot. — Went off backwards, and burst about 50 yards in rear of our 
own trench. 

3rd Shot. — Bomb hit the parapet and fell on the fire-step, where it was dis- 
covered just before it burst. 

And the faithful recorder of these experiments adds : " Thank 
God, our West -gun was destroyed by fire a week later !" 

A new officer just joining a battaHon of the Brigade while 
it was out at rest at Morlancourt was startled to see a heap of 
turnips with fuzes attached. Had our resources fallen so low, 
he asked anxiously, that we were reduced to turnips as bombs ? 
The explanation was a great relief to him. It was another 
idea of the Brigade Bombing Staff (there was no Brigade Amuse- 
ment Officer in those days), who hollowed out a turnip, and put 
in a small charge of powder and a fuze. These were used in 
practising trench warfare, one team against another in a dummy 
trench, and all men hit by a piece of turnip when the charge 
went off were counted casualties. 

About this time one of the present officers of the Brigade, 
then a bombing instructor at that place of many memories, 
the old " Bull Ring " at Etaples, had an exciting experience. 

The " Bantam " battalions were then coming out, and each 
man was given a short bombing course, which included the 
throwing of three Mills, before being sent up the line. 

The " Bantams " were very keen, but owing to the numerous 
accidents that had occurred with improvised bombs, and the 
fact that the popular name for bombing instruction was " join- 
ing the Suicide Club " a certain amount of nervousness was 
shown. For instructional purposes a party of about a hundred 
would be under the shelter of a breastwork, whilst the man 
who was going to throw was in a trench breastwork at a safe 
distance in front with the sergeant-instructor. When the bomb 
was thrown, all the party in rear had to duck when the N.C.O. 
in charge shouted " Down !" It should be said that the bomb- 
ing-ground was on the dunes, where the dry sand makes run- 
ning very difficult, as one's feet sink ankle-deep at every step. 

The keenness of the " Bantams " showed itself in their desire 
to retain the split-ring and pin of the first Mills bomb each man 
threw. One man came along, strapped on the old-fashioned 


bombing-apron, with its small pockets in front, and three Mills 
bombs were placed in the pockets. Following the rule then in 
force, he was made to take one out, assume the throwing posi- 
tion, draw the pin, and await the order to throw. All this he 
did ; but on the order being given, the unexpected happened — 
he actually threw away the pin, and placed the grenade back 
in the pocket of his apron. The pocket was just loose enough 
to allow the lever of the bomb to fly back and release the striker, 
and then followed a scene which would have been extraordinarily 
funny had the result not been so tragic. 

The sergeant grabbed at the pocket, but the lever of the 
bomb prevented its withdrawal ; he then dragged the man 
away from some more boxes of bombs which were alongside, 
and, seeing the impossibility of recovering the bomb in time, 
got round the other side of the trench breastwork. He was 
promptly followed by the human bomb, who apparently did 
not realize that he was the cause of all the trouble. 

Then ensued a ghastly game of hide-and-seek, the two people 
concerned being engaged in dodging round the trench breast- 
work for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only 
about two seconds, until the sergeant suddenly ran into the 
open, ploughing with difficulty through the soft sand, followed 
by the poor fellow carrying the bomb in his apron. This mad 
chase did not last long, and, being impeded by the apron, its 
wearer was outdistanced by the sergeant, fortunately for the 
latter. It is a pity that one cannot conclude by stating that 
the grenade was a " dud," but unfortunately it was not. 

After that, " This practice must cease " was translated by 
bombing instructors into much stronger language when check- 
ing the tendency of recruits to retain safety-pins as souvenirs. 

During the early tours in the trenches a prize was offered 
by the Division for the first piece of German wire brought in. 
One's own wire being a rather jealously guarded treasure, this was 
not an easy job. One officer set out with a patrol of three, 
and all got safely to the wire. There one of them had a bad 
fit of coughing, which lasted half an hour. Lying out there 
crouching flat on the ground, with faces pressed into the mud, 
it seemed to have begun in the dawn of the world, and to be 
going on for all eternity. At last it ceased, and without stop- 
ping to get any wire, the little party returned sadly, and in a 
very bad state of nerves, to their own trench. 

Another attempt was made by some Bedfordshires from the 
D.I sector, an officer creeping out with his platoon sergeant — 
the latter an excellent fellow named Lewin, who had been a 
policeman. He seemed to have no sense of fear (which wcis 
rather unlucky for the officer who accompanied him), for, on 
reaching the German wire, he shook it, and said in what he 

may have thought was a whisper : " That's good wire !" 

He made a dickens of a rattle with the wire, but would not 


take the first piece, creeping among it till he had selected six 
good specimens. They got back safely, and the specimens were 
duly sent to Division, but the expected prize did not turn up. 
Whether it was forgotten, or whether it had already been won 
by another Brigade, is not known to this day. 

This Sergeant Lewin had a man in his platoon whom he used 
to run in as a poacher in the old " civvy " days. They were 
great pals now, and used to go out on patrol work together, 
doing good work, to which their experiences of poachers and 
poaching no doubt contributed. 

Mud was an unpleasant feature of the Brigade's first winter 
in the trenches. (It must be very disappointing to the Germans 
to know that, if you ask any of the Old Originals about those 
early days, they remember the rats and the mud much more 
vividly than the Bosche strafes.) 

One night in January, 1916, a man stuck in the mud for 
five hours in a very bad part of the line, and was fed on rum, 
to keep him cheerful and amused, until he could be got out. 
It may be only a coincidence that the next night seven men 
stuck in the mud in the same place ; but the rum treatment 
was discontinued, and further spread of the epidemic stopped. 

The D.I sector was on higher ground than D.2, and drained 
into it, an interesting fact of which the occupants of D.i took 
full advantage. On one occasion the battalion occupying 
D.2 built a dam to stop this drainage scheme, and as a result 
a large sheet of water formed between the two sectors, cutting 
off all communication. 

A Northamptonshire officer had a trying experience while 
the battalion was in D.2 sector. He went out in No Man's 
Land on patrol, and arranged to give on his return an imita- 
tion of a bird-call as the password. Having said " Pee-wee !" 
several times, till the sentry had the idea correctly, he set off. 
Unfortunately, while he was away the posts were changed. On 
his return he said " Pee-wee !" in what he fondly believed to 
to be life-like fashion. But it was a new sentry, who gave the 
imitation a cold reception, remarking : " Yes, if you don't stop 

that ' Pee-weeing,' I'll well " etc., etc. A very 

indignant. officer, feeling very unloved and far from home, was 
kept lying on his face for half an hour out in No Man's Land, 
till a sergeant who knew about the " password " turned up 
and let him in. 

Happily, life was not entirely a question of " sticking it " 
in the line, and the spells in billets, when you had been relieved 
by the other battalion, made a pleasant change. There was 
Morlancourt, for instance, where the Northamptonshire Padre 
(Captain Bennett) rigged up the old church as a canteen (he 
could always get a crowd when patching the roof), and ran 
boxing competitions and concerts, as well as a very popular 
Sunday evening service. " Morlancourt will always be a name 


to revive pleasant memories " (writes a Northamptonshire 
officer, while these pages are being prepared), "whether they be 
of the little orange girl who stood at that very corner we were 
afterwards [in 19 iX) to fight for, or maybe the less romantic, 
though certainly not less humorous, recollection of our prac- 
tising with turnips for that bombing attack from D.i which 
was to have cut out Fricourt, but which, fortunately for those 
who were to have taken part, never materialized." 

During this period the difficulty of getting change for use in 
the canteens led to an interesting experiment in the nth Royal 
Fusiliers. Mr. S. C. Turner, a well-known business man in the City, 
who made his office the hcadcjuarters of all efforts for the good of 
officers and men of the battalion, decided to issue a special paper 
currency. This was in the form of books of " tear out " franc notes. 
The men were paid partly in these, as they wished, and the notes 
were always good for their face value in the canteen. Indeed, they 
won such a good reputation among the French people, that local 
shops, in some of the places where we were billeted, were willing 
to accept them, knowing that they would be duly honoured. 

This was only one of countless ways in which Mr. Turner, at 
the head of the friends of the battalion at home, cared in prac- 
tical fashion for the men of the nth Fusiliers, showing a practical 
interest in the welfare of the men and their families. 

Of quiet days out of the line, the Middlesex Regiment probably 
remembered January 7th as well as any. Lieutenant-General 
Sir Ivor Maxse came over to inspect them, and they were drawn 
up on parade, feeling very good, and hoping that the Divisional 
Commander would think as well of them as they thought of 
themselves, when the Germans began to take an interest in the 
proceedings. They shelled the parade with such enthusiasm 
and accuracy that the show broke up rather hurriedly. 

Indeed, the Germans took a great deal too much interest in 
our shows when we were out at rest. The following entry in 
the Brigade diary for January nth is too good for further 
comment : — " Quiet day. Enemy fired about a dozen 59 
shells into Meaulte at 3 p.m., possibly intended for a football 
match then in progress." 

Talking of shows, who remembers the munition workers who 
visited us about this time to see what we wanted shells for ? 
Some of them were conducted into the front-line trench by the 
Brigade Staff, and everything was done to give them a good 
show. A stolid north-countryman, invited to look at the 
German line through a trench periscope, was startled to have 
the top of the mirror shot away while he was peeping. He 
returned to England much impressed, and the Brigade Staff 
were very interested in his vivid description of this periscope 
incident in a local paper. And one of our own fellows, stationed 
with a rifle a few bays away, with orders to shoot away the top 
of the periscope as soon as it appeared, was quite proud to find 


himself described in print as a German sniper of uncanny 

Much of January was devoted to putting the sector into good 
trim for handing over. Thanks to a spell of fine weather, and 
some good work by the Sussex pioneers on the communica- 
tion trenches, everything was in splendid condition when we 
were relieved by the 20th and 22nd Brigades early in February. 
A big wiring scheme was also carried out during the month. 
On the night of January loth two companies of the North- 
amptonshire Regiment put out 400 yards of new wire along the 
centre of D.2. There was some rifle fire, but no casualties. 
The method of putting up the wire had been practised for some 
days previously in the billetinjj area. 

Before leaving this part of the line, one would like to mention 
the 174th Tunnelling Company, commanded by Major Stokes. 
They ran the whole of our mining very sympathetically and 
extraordinarily well. When we took over this sector several 
portions of trench could only be patrolled, and never held by 
sentries. Within a few months the whole situation had been 
changed — all our trenches were perfectly safe, and we were 
able to " camoufiet " the Hun when and where we liked. The 
Brigade owed a great sense of security entirely to this tunnelling 
company and their own mining fatigues. 

It should also be recorded here that in his despatch dealing 
with the winter of 191 5- 16 Sir Douglas Haig remarks : — 

" While many other units have done excellent work during the 
period under review, the following have been specially brought 
to my notice for good work in carrying out or repelling local 
attacks and raids." Then follows a list of battalions, which 
includes the 7th Bedfordshire and the 6th Northamptonshire 

Having been relieved in the line, the Brigade marched back 
to the Lahoussye area, and by February 5th all the battalions 
were billeted there — Brigade headquarters, the Bedfordshire 
and Northamptonshire Regiments in Lahoussye itself, and the 
Fusiliers and Middlesex Regiment in Franvillers. Training was 
actively carried on. 

On February 12th the 54th Brigade Machine Gun Company 
arrived from England (4 officers and 141 other ranks), and was 
billeted in Franvillers. The company remained with the Brigade 
until the forming of the Machine Gun Corps, when the 54th 
Brigade Company was incorporated in the i8th Machine Gun 
Battalion, attached to the i8th Division. 

On March ist the Brigade moved to the Corbie area, thence 
to the Bray area, and a few days later took over our new sector 
of the line A.i and A. 2 in front of Carnoy. It was during their 
reconnaissance of this sector that Colonel G. R. Ripley and 
Captain R. W. Beacham, of the Northamptonshire Regiment, 
were wounded, a stray shell getting them as they were walking 
across from Bronfay Farm to Billou Wood. Colonel Ripley was 


in England for three months as a result of this bit of hard luck, 
but insisted on returning in June, while still only marked for 
Home Service, in order that he might " lead his boys in their 
first offensive." 

It was in this sector, and at about the same time, that the 
Northamptonshire Regiment came across some unusual " trench 
stores," in the shape of two cows, who, though not in the 
prime of condition, seemed to promise a change from tinned 

It was decided that a change of air would be good for them, 
and early one morning the Adjutant's batman, who had been 
a milkman before the war, set out to drive them from the line 
back to the pastures of Bray. Daylight came, and they were 
still in sight and range of the enemy's guns, but for once the 
German was a sportsman or a humorist, for he let the strange 
procession proceed. 

But the experiment was not a success. Perhaps the cows 
had a sentimental attachment for their old billet in Carnoy, 
although that village received too much attention from German 
guns to please most people. At any rate, they seemed to pine, 
so one day they were driven back, and took up their quarters 
with the company in reserve at Carnoy. There at each relief 
they were duly taken over as " trench stores." 

The centre of our front boasted five saps, varying from 80 to 
200 yards in length, running out to old mine craters in No 
Man's Land. These saps were held by posts which, on several 
occasions, owing to their isolated positions, were the scene of 
lively little encounters with Bosche patrols. It was in one of 
these duels, between a German sniper and Captain Burrows 
(Northamptonshire Regiment), who was trying to bomb him at 
25 yards range, that the latter was killed. 

This part of the line was the scene of a determined raid by the 
Germans in the early hours of April 13th. 

After a heavy bombardment, which practically flattened out 
our trenches, four separate raids were made — one in A.i Sub- 
sector, and three in A. 2 Sub-sector. In A.i they met with some 
success, the Middlesex Regiment being unlucky enough to lose 
ten of their number as prisoners. 

In A. 2 the Northamptonshire Regiment, profiting by their 
experience in the previous raid in December, put up a good 
show, and threw the Germans out, keeping four prisoners as 
souvenirs and recovering a number of dead. They had thirteen 
killed and forty wounded, the killed including six of a special 
wiring paity chosen from volunteers for a particularly tricky 
bit of work among the craters. These men were cut off by the 
German barrage, and tried to return to our lines through the 
right company, but were unhappily mistaken for Germans. 
The leading spirit in the defence that night was the late Major 
(then Captain) Podmore, commanding the centre company. In 
spite of bearing practically the whole of the casualties, his men 


clung on desperately to the battered remnant of their trench, 
thanks to his fine example. For that night's work he won the 
first D.S.O. awarded in the Division. Later he commanded the 
1 2th Middlesex Regiment, and met his death in an unfortunate 
accident at a trench-mortar demonstration on December 31st, 
191 7. 

The Brigade had its revenge for this raid just a fortnight 
later, when the Bedfordshire Regiment carried out their first 
raid in the early hours of April 27th. This was led by Captain 
(then 2nd-Lieutenent) H. Driver, who was awarded the D.S.O. 
for the affair. He has been good enough to jot down the follow- 
ing account of the proceedings : — 

" I had just returned to the battalion after being wounded 
for the first time, and I was secretly informed by my company 
commander, Captain T. E. Lloj^d, that our company had been 
selected to carry out a raid during our next tour of duty in the 
line, and that I was to be in charge. 

" We managed quite easily to get volunteers for the raid, 
and I proceeded to train them at Bray. It n^ust be understood 
that these were the early days of raids, and none of us expected 
to get back from the Bosche line even if we succeeded in reaching 
it. However, we marked out (with the aid of aeroplane photos) 
a facsimile of the Bosche trench to be raided, and practised raid- 
ing it by day and by night until we thought we all knew our own 
particular job. In addition, I was ordered to take a few men up 
to our actual fiont each night, and take them out into No 
Man's Land to get them accustomed to being there. I disliked 
this part of the preparation intensely. 

" The fateful day approached, and I was interviewed by the 
Brigadier (General Shoubridge), who was a very cheery man 
and inspired one with confidence. He told me that at last we 
had some wonderful artillery, and the raid was to be supported 
by wonderful 9- 2-inch howitzers and 8-inch guns. He added 
that he expected us to do our job well, in view of the fact that 
the shells to be fired would cost the country a prodigious sum 
of money, and the country was looking for something in return. 
I came away duly ina pressed. 

" The next day the Bedfordshire Regiment took over the line 
again, and the raid was to take place the same night at 2.30 a.m. 
The raiding party and myself by this time felt we were all to 
soon face something we would have gladly handed over to others, 
and we tried hard to appreciate the grim jest that if we were 
successful we should immediately go on leave. 

" During the evening the raiding party foregathered in a dug- 
out near the point in our trench from which we proposed to 
start. We all blackened our faces and hands so as not to show 
up in the dark, and prepared our bombs. The party was kept 
very cheery by one of its members, Corporal Lancaster, more 
famiharly known as ' Alec' He was quite a wonderful fellow, 


and has, fortunately, come through the war safely, though he 
has several times been severely wounded. As the evening wore 
on a special rum issue was produced, and the men were asked 
whether they would like it before or after the raid. They were 
unanimous in deciding not to take the risk of not having it at 
all. As ' Alec ' pointed out, ' There might be no coming back.' 

" We settled down about 10.30 p.m. for a four-hour wait, 
having completed our preparations. I tried to work up some 
sort of appetite for dinner. Suddenly at 11 p.m. (not in ac- 
cordance with our plan) a heavy bombardment of our trenches 
was opened by the Bosche. The next battalion on our right 
sent up the S.O.S. signal, and very soon our artillery replied 
vigorously. We were naturally rather alarmed, and began to 
wonder if the Bosche had any knowledge of our intended raid. 
Anyhow, after about half an hour the strafe died down again, 
and the rest of the time passed without further incident — 
except that my batman informed me that he had packed up 
my kit as he expected me to be wounded ! 

"At 2.15 precisely thirty-four black- faced ruffians, each 
heavily laden, climbed over the top, and lay down in No Man's 
Land in accordance with our plan. Suddenly at 2.30 we saw 
a vivid flash behind us, followed by a terrible crash. It was 
the opening of our barrage. I had to shout in the next man's 
ear before he could hear what I said. Our spirits went up enor- 
mously, for we thought that nothing could live in that storm of 
fire. I kept looking at my luminous watch, knowing that at 
2.40 the barrage would lift, and we must then be ready to jump 
into the Bosche trench. 

" Fortunately, I found the exact point at which we were to 
enter it, and, with the aid of Corporal Dunkam, soon cleared a 
gap in the enemy's wire. I then signalled to my party with a 
flashlight, and was quite bucked to see them loom out of the 
darkness and walk up in quick time in proper formation. The 
leading man carried a ladder, which was put in position, after 
someone had first of all taken the precaution of lobbing a bomb 
into the trench. All this time the noise of our shells bursting 
a little distance in front of us was simply deafening. 

" Everything now went like clockwork. One party descended 
the ladder and went to the left. A second party went to the 
right, while a third remained on guard at the point of entry. 
VVe also knew that by this time a fourth party was out in No 
Man's Land laying a white trail (with chloride of lime) to guide 
us back over the two or three hundred yards of pitch-black space 
we had crossed. 

" The few stray Bosches found wandering about the trench 
were summarily disposed of, but the chief difficulty lay in dealing 
with those who had sought refuge in their deep dug-outs, which 
at this part of the line were found about every 10 yards. One had 
to descend about a dozen slippery steps in order to get into a 


dug-out, each being lit up and containing about a dozen or more 
Huns, who had thought themselves perfectly secure. There 
was no time to haul them out and take them back as prisoners, 
and we had brought 368 bombs (15 bags, each containing 
20 bombs, and 2 emergency bombs each in our pockets) ; so, 
having failed to get the Bosches to come outside the first dug- 
out, we decided to use a bag of bombs for each dug-out. 

" It was fairly simple to roll these bombs down the stairs, 
and deal with the dug-outs systematically in this way. Un- 
fortunately, owing to misunderstanding, one of our men was 
accidentally wounded, but we managed to get him home safelj'. 
All went well up to a point, and the party that went to the left 
returned to the point of entry at the appointed time. But there 
was no sign of the right-hand party, and it is difficult to realize 
our feelings as we waited on top of the Bosche trench for quite 
twenty minutes, during which time we fought a battle with some 
Bosche reinforcements trying to come along the trench from the 
left. All our bombs having been used, we carried on with rifles 
and revolvers. 

" At last the right-hand party began to arrive, and eventually 
they all turned up, although some of them had been wounded, 
and in one case a wounded man had to be carried. It was now 
nearly dawn, and the Bosche was showing searchlights, but we 
soon recrossed No Man's Land, and the whole party got home 
safely, with the exception of one man who lost his way, but 
who, owing to an error, had been reported as having returned. 

" Sergeant Mills got a D.C.M., Corporals Lancaster and Joyce 
got Military Medals, and every man got a ' Parchment ' from 
General Maxse, Commander of the Division. They all took the 
next train for leave. Thus ended our first raid, and I was 
thankful to cross over to Blighty in a hospital ship. 

" Sir Douglas Haig reported our raid in his daily communique 
in the following terms : ' Last night a successful raid was carried 
out by men of the Bedfordshire Regiment, who entered the 
enemy's trenches near Carnoy, and, after fierce hand-to-hand 
fighting, forced them down into their dug-outs and bombed them 
there, inflicting heavy casualties. Only a few of our men 
were wounded, and the whole party successfully returned to 
our lines.' " 

Chapter IV 


■117 HEN you were on a fatigue or a working party, it was easy 
•" to believe that yours was the only platoon or company doing 
any real hard work in the whole of France, and, further, that the 
job had been organized rnerely to annoy you. So it was that 
few people, even among those on the spot, doing their own little 
share of the job, realized how great were the preparations 
necessary for such an undertaking as the Somme offensive of 
July, 1916. In his despatch on these operations Sir Douglas 
Haig gave a vivid picture of the tasks involved : — 

" Vast stocks of ammunition and stores of all kinds had 
to be accumulated beforehand within a convenient distance 
of the front. To deal with these many miles of new railways 
— both standard and narrow gauge — and trench tramways 
were laid. All available roads were improved, many others 
weie made, and long causeways were built over marshy 

" Many additional dug-outs had to be provided as shelter 
for the troops, for use as dressing-stations for the wounded, 
and as magazines for storing ammunition, food, water, and 
engineering material. Scores of miles of deep communica- 
tion trenches had to be dug, as well as trenches for telephone 
wires, assembly and assault trenches, and numerous gun 
emplacements and observation -posts. 

" Important mining operations were undertaken, and 
charges were laid at various points behind the enemy's 

" Except in the river valleys, the existing supplies of water 
were hopelessly insufficient to meet the requirements of 
. the number of men and horses to be concentrated in this 
area. To meet this difficulty many wells and borings were 
sunk, and Over 100 pumping plants were installed. More 
than 120 miles of water-mains were laid. 

" Much of the preparatory work had to be done under 
very trying conditions, and was liable to constant interrup- 
tion from the enemy's fiie. The weather on the whole was 
bad, and local accommodation totally insufficient for housing 
the troops employed, who consequently had to content 
themselves with such rough shelter as could be provided in 
the circumstances. All this labour, too, had to be carried 
out in addition to fighting and to the everyday work of 
maintaining existing defences. It threw a very heavy strain 
on the troops, which was borne by them with a cheerfulness 
beyond all praise." 



As far as this Brigade was concerned, preparations began 
as far back as May 4th, when the battalions were relieved in the 
line by the 21st Brigade (30th Division), and were engaged for 
nearly two months on work in connection with the long-antici- 
pated offensive. 

The Fusiliers were in camp at Bois Celestine (just north of 
Chipilly), employed chiefly on road mending ; the Bedfordshire 
Regiment in billets at Bray, working under the 30th Division ; 
the Northamptonshire Regiment in billets at Frechencourt and 
Querrieux, building railways ; and the Middlesex Regiment at 
Grovetown, Bray, also on railway work. 

The following, quoted from a diary kept by a Fusilier officer, 
will give a general idea of how the next few weeks were spent 
by all the battalions : — 

" Huts had to be erected by the score, roads to be made 
and others repaired, barges unloaded, ballast procured from 
quarries, and many other arduous tasks carried out. The 
parties on hut-building soon began to see some result of 
their labours, and before many days a snug little town had 
sprung up under the shadow of the budding trees. 

" The valley of the Somme was indeed superb. In the 
early morning you would awaken to the song of birds in 
the trees above you ; dragon-flies, at least six different 
colours, which drift noiselessly through the air, and beautiful 
- butterflies, made every moment of the day really enjoy- 

" In Chipilly village there were some baths alongside the 
canal, and our men had a hot bath and a change of under- 
clothing, and a hundred yards away was an open-air swim- 
ming bath, where our men splashed about. 

" There were magnificent views of the Sortime and the 
lagoons from the woods, and some of the officers got a boat 
and rowed from one lagoon to another to Sailly Lorette. 
On the way some indulged in a swim, while the others 
prepared tea in picnic style. For the men we arranged 
cinema shows, concerts, and football matches." 

Among the work to be done on the front from which the 
great offensive was to be made was the preparation of Russian 
saps. These were tunnels under No Man's Land, leading to 
within about six yards of the German lines. They were filled 
with tons of stores of every kind, and when the attack had been 
launched, all that was necessary was to blow out the end, and 
a way was made for carrying parties to get rations, water, 
ammunition, etc., to the advanced troops. 

There were two of these saps on the front on which the 
Brigade attacked, and the digging of one of them led to an 
exciting moment. Work was going ahead in good style, when, 
to the general consternation, they broke through into a German 

PJwtn ■ Elliott & Fry] 

London, W. 


C.M.G., D.S.O., 

Who Commanded tlie Brigade from October, 1917, to March, 1919. 

To face page 32. 

Photo : Speaighl] 

ILondon, \V. 

Who Commanded the 54th Infantry Brigade, December, 1915 to March, 1917. 

To face page 33. 


dug-out. Luckily it was unoccupied at the time ; the hole 
was carefully patched, and apparently the Germans never knew 
of our visit. 

During this period Brigade headquarters were atOissy, where 
Brigade Machine Gun, Trench Mortar, Bombing, and Signalling 
Schools were instituted. These schools were visited by Sir 
Douglas Haig and Staff on May 12th. 

June came, and with it more active preparations. On the 
Qth the Fusiliers and Northamptonshire Regiment began digging 
near Picquigny trenches which were an exact facsimile from 
aeroplane photos of the enemy system opposite Carnoy, which 
they were to attack three weeks later. By the nth Brigade 
headquarters and all battalions had arrived at Picquigny, and 
practice attacks over the facsimile trenches were actively 
carried out. 

By the 23rd preliminary training had been finished, the whole 
Brigade was moved to the Bray area, and on the following 
day took over the front on which we were to attack. 

" On the way up from Bray," says the Fusilier officer from 
whose diary I have already quoted, "we were delighted to 
see guns of every calibre dug in — it seemed everywhere. In 
fact, the whole ground seemed alive with them, and in 
every valley behind the line was a very hot-bed of destruc- 
tion to spit at the enemy. 

" A good deal of our time was now occupied in cutting 
steps in and erecting bridges across the assembly trenches. 
The steps were to be used by us for quickness when we 
left the trenches to attack and the wooden bridges by 
reinforcements who would come up across the open." 

Before the great day came the Brigade carried out two or 
three successful raids for the purpose of information. 

One of these took place on the, night of June 25th, when 
Private W. Crowe, a Middlesex scout, did some fine work, for 
which he was afterwards awarded the Military Medal. Accord- 
ing to the official account, " he was in the screen which pre- 
ceded the raid. After this screen had been pushed forward 
from our trenches, a heavy enemy barrage was put down between 
it and the main body, owing to the division on our left letting 
off smoke, which alarmed the enemy. Crowe returned through 
this barrage in the dark, and guided the main body through it 
up to a position in rear of the .scout screen. On the return of 
the raid, he also displayed great courage in collecting wounded 
men who had lost their way, and bringing them back to our 

On the night of the 2 7th-28th 2nd-Lieutenant W. R. Howard 
took over thirty Fusiliers and raided Austrian trench and 
Austrian support. The party proceeded along about 250 yards 
of the trench, but was held up by the enemy at Austrian 


junction. Valuable information was gained as to the damage done 
by our bombardment, and the party withdrew safely, suffering 
a few casualties, but no men being killed. For this good work 
2nd-Lieutenant Howard was awarded the M.C. 

On the night of 29th-3oth about lOo Middlesex men, under 
2nd-Lieutenants Chase, Restall, Garstin, and Card, went over 
and penetrated as far as Emden Trench. A number of Germans 
were killed, several dug-outs searched, and much useful informa- 
tion gained. The raiders spent two hours in enemy territory. 
Unfortunately, 2nd-Lieutenant Chase was badly hit just before 
reaching our lines, and died of wounds. 

The German reply to our preliminary bombardment caused 
a certain amount of trouble. Two brief quotations from diaries 
will give some idea of what this meant. 
A Fusilier officer writes : — 

" One morning, about i a.m., I had a party of sixteen 

men working in Hyde Road, when the Huns suddenly 

directed their fire on Park Lane. As it was impossible for 

the men to continue their work, I withdrew them towards 

Piccadilly [these are all names of trenches] ; and as we 

moved, so did the shells, for they followed us, and it was 

with great difficulty my men got under cover. Being under 

cover does not always mean safety, for five of my party 

who had taken shelter in a dug-out in Piccadilly Circus 

were wounded, the dug-out being blown in. Wherever we 

were we seemed to be running into shells, and time after 

time we were warned by men, shovel in hand, who were 

digging out some unfortunate comrade, to keep our heads 

low and get by as quickly as possible, as the spot was a 

marked one." 

It was near the same spot that the Bedfordshire Regiment had 

a very bad bit of luck, having all the officers of one company 

killed or wounded only a few days before they were due to go 

over in the big show. Captain Doake, one of the survivors, 

gives the following account : — 

" On June 26th ' C ' company, in support, had a bad 
time from enemy bursts of fire. The officers' mess in a 
dug-out in Piccadilly got a direct hit, while all the officers 
were having supper, about 9 p.m. All became casualties, 
as well as some eight servants and other ranks who took 
refuge. A 42 howitzer shell struck the entrance and burst 
inside. The doorway was filled up, and the smoke and 
fumes almost suffocated the survivors. Luckily a passing 
man saw my arm, which had been pushed through a hole, 
and after a little labour Major (then Captain) Clegg and I 
were got out. But Lieutenants Baden and Hasler were 
killed, and Lieutenant Johnson died of wounds. The com- 
panies suffered severely that day from bursts of fire, which 
were very well directed and quite thorough." 


The rescue of the buried officers was carried out by Private 
H. W. Fish. He at once began to dig, and, although the air 
was thick with gas and he was nearly choked, he refused to be 
relieved till the job was finished. This same man did some 
gallant work before Pommiers Kedoubt on July ist, crawling 
up and bombing a machine gun that was holding up our advance. 
For these actions he was awarded the D.C.M. 

A great deal of rain fell during these days and nights of 
waiting for the big event, and trenches got muddier and muddier. 
But in spite of hard work and discomfort, the men were amazingly 
cheerful, and full of heart. The worse the conditions, the better 
their spirits seemed to become. 

By 2 a.m. on July ist all units were in their battle positions, 
as follows : — 

The assaulting battalions (nth Royal Fusiliers on the 
left and 7th Bedfordshire Regiment on the right) in the 
forming-up trenches. 

The supports (6th Northamptonshire Regiment) in 
bivouac in Carnoy Valley. 

The reserve (12th Middlesex Regiment) in dug-outs in 

The 54th Machine Gun Company had two guns with each of 
the assaulting battalions, four ready to go forward behind the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, two guns in the Russian saps, 
and six guns to bring indirect fire to bear on the German lines 
from Caftet Wood. 

The newly-formed 54th Trench Mortar Battery had eight 
guns in position for hurricane bombardment. 

There was nothing to be done now but to sit down in the 
trenches and wait. This was worse than fighting, leally a very 
trying ordeal. Just before dawn most of the companies had 
tea sent up to them, and this was very welcome, for everyone 
was thoroughly chilled, and a fine rain was falling. When day- 
light came our shelling increased in volume, and by 5.30 a.m 
was a deafening roar, to which the Germans were replying 
hotly. About 7 a.m. everything became wrapped in a thick 
mist, but this luckily cleared off just before the start. 

The minutes ticked on. Officers were looking at their watches, 
and the minutes went by — but so slowly, it seemed, when any- 
thing would have been better than this ordeal in the assembly 
trenches, which the enemy's shells were knocking to blazes. 
At last it was 7.30, and officers blew whistles, but the men at 
their elbows could not hear them in that hell and hail of shells. 
But all eyes had been on the officers and N.C.Os. for the first 
sign of a move, and as the hands of the watches touched the 
fateful minute it was " Over the top, and good luck to you !" 

The two assaulting battalions got well away, and within ten 
minutes Emden Trench was taken. But it hat] been a costly 

D 2 


ten minutes. The two leading companies of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment had already lost all their officers, but the N.C.Os. 
had the waves well in hand. Machine guns had checked the 
advance from Austrian Support, but these were quickly dealt 
with, one of them being rushed and captured with great dash 
by Lance-Corporal A. Payne, of the Fusiliers. Between Bund 
Trench and Pommiers Trench there was a check, owing to 
some uncut wire, but a mixed party of twenty Bedfordshires 
and twenty Berkshires (the latter in the 53rd Brigade) com- 
pleted this task under heavy shell fire in a most methodical 
and fearless manner. 

The Germans took advantage of the check to make a small 
counter-attack from the direction of Mametz on the left flank 
of the Fusiliers. 2nd-Lieutenant Parr-Dudley at once got 
hold of his platoon, wheeled it half left, and charged, using 
bullet, bayonet, and bomb to such good effect that not one of 
the enemy escaped. Unfortunately, the gallant officer himself 
was killed. 

Twenty minutes after the start Pommiers Trench was assaulted 
and captured, the Fusiliers taking a machine gun. Here, 
according to programme, there was a forty minutes' halt. But 
it was a busy time. There was much hand-to-hand fighting, 
especially at the junction with Black Alley, and a number of 
dug-outs were bombed out. Some good work was also done 
along Black Alley by a Fusilier bombing party while the waves 
were going forward to Pommiers Trench. 

" The men were by this time quite cool and collected, and 
apparently very happy," wrote an officer a day or two later. 
" Several of them were holding little sing-songs, while others 
were very energetically shaking hands and wishing their officers 
good luck. 

" During our halt in this trench we have time to realize more 
than ever what the din of battle is like ; for the roll of the French 
75 's, the crack of our 18-pounders, the blast of the 60-pounders, 
the deafening roar of the heavies, the whizzing of bullets and 
bursting of shells, and the painful cry of the wounded, remind 
us vividly that we are taking part in the world's greatest battle." 

On the way to Pommiers Trench there has been many in- 
stances of individual gallantry. Under heavy machine-gun 
fire. Private J. Nicholson, of the FusiHers, shot six Germans 
who were sniping the oncoming waves, and then, although 
wounded, bombed and knocked out a machine-gun which was 
holding up the advance. 

Private W. T. Taverner, of the same battalion, located a 
machine gun in Pommiers Trench, and, unable to get at the 
gunner, who was barricaded in, stood on top of the emplace- 
ment, under fire, and shouted to the waves to scatter right and 
left, tlius sav'i.ij a number of casualties, and well darning his 
Military Midal. 


A D.C.M. went to a Fusilier signaller, Private J. W. Hughes, 
for a capital piece of work. Having to send a message which 
he knew was urgent, he chose a white flag, the most visible 
as it was also the most dangerous, and coolly stood on top of 
the parapet under a hail of shot and shell. Although wounded, 
he carried on till a shell dealt him a terrible injury which rendered 
him unconscious. 

At this same stage of the proceedings Private V. C. Taylor, 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment, showed fine initiative. Sent 
forward to reconnoitre when his platoon was approaching 
Pommiers Trench, he saw in the trench one of our men going 
round a traverse where a German was waiting for him with 
fixed bayonet, and about twelve more Bosches behind him. 
Taylor acted promptly, seizing our man by the equipment 
and dragging him bodily out of the trench. He then crawled 
up and bombed the party of Germans so effectively that six 
were killed and the rest taken prisoners. 

At this time our left flank was in the air, the neighbouring 
Brigade being hung up before Dantzig Alley. This was the 
more uncomfortable since the Germans were holding Fritz 
Trench (leading into Black Alley, where our left rested) in some 

The matter was dealt with in a simple way which was a good 
example of co-operation between Lewis guns and trench mortars. 
Two Lewis guns of the left company of the Fusiliers were put 
in Black Alley in such a manner as to command the approach 
to Fritz Trench. Two 3-inch Stokes mortars were then brought 
up. They pounded Fritz Trench, the Germans were forced to 
bolt, and the Lewis guns did the rest. 

The most difficult part of the morning work had still to be 
done. As information from raids had led us to expect, the 
Germans did not hold their front line in any great strength, 
except for well-placed machine guns. But the advance from 
Pommiers Trench to Pommiers Redoubt was a different matter, 
for the wire had not been sufficiently cut, and the line was held 
far more strongly and with much more determination. 

When the leading waves got out of Pommiers Trench, they 
were met with heavy machine gun and rifle fire, and the few 
who reached the wire were shot down. Captain Johnston, of 
the Fusiliers, attempted to take his men up Black Alley, but 
the last 60 yards was a straight, and was held by a machine 
gun. He then attempted to get round the Redoubt, but German 
snipers in the south-west corner of Beetle Alley proved a nuisance. 
2nd-Licutenant Savage, on his left, rushed them at that spot, 
and the Fusiliers were able to get close up to the Redoubt 
without further casualties. Captain Johnston then put his 
Lewis guns at the end of Black Alley in such a way as to enfilade 
the front of the Redoubt. This wiped out all the Germans in 
the trench, and our line was able to dash in and finish the job. 


It was, however, 9.30 a.m. before the Redoubt was completely 
taken, as there were many Germans still in dug-outs, and they 
put up a very obstinate resistance. 

Some good Lewis-gun work by Lance-Corporal H. A. Stebbeds, 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment, contributed to the capture of 
the Redoubt. When a part of the attack was held up outside 
the Redoubt by uncut wire and enemy snipers, he crawled some 
hundred yards to a flank with his gun, got on to the enemy's 
parapet, and fired down a straight portion of enemy trench, 
putting about twenty-five Germans out of action, and enabling 
our line to get forward. 

With officer casualties so high, there was a great call for 
leadership on the part of N.C.Os., and Sergeant S. Impey, also 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment, won his M.M. that day. He was 
in command of his company practically all the way from Emden 
Trench. When it was held up before the Redoubt, he sprang 
forward, called on the men to follow, and got them into the 

Presently our barrage lifted off Beetle Alley (beyond the 
Redoubt), and this trench was at once rushed by the Fusiliers 
and Bedfordshire Regiment, the latter having to push in their 
reserve company. 

By this time the Northamptonshire Regiment had come up 
in support of the assaulting battalions, and were carrying out 
the double duty of making strong points and clearing trenches 
and dug-outs. All the companies had had to pass through a 
heavy enemy barrage on their way up, and suffered heavy 

In the afternoon parties of the Fusiliers (three platoons) and 
Bedfordshire Regiment (one platoon) reached \Vhite Trench, 
which wound round nearly 1,000 yards beyond the Redoubt, 
near Mametz Wood, and after dark the construction of strong 
points just south of this line was begun. Most of those who 
took part will remember this digging, after a long and exciting 
day, as the worst part of the whole show. Everyone was 
tired out, and if a man ceased digging for a moment he dropped 
off to sleep where he stood or fell. Perhaps it was worse for 
the protective screen out in front, for they had not the exercise 
of digging to keep them awake. Only one little excitement did 
they have. About 10.30 that night a strong party of Germans 
was reported in front of Caterpillar Wood, apparently coming 
over to dispute our right to dig in ground that had so recently 
been theirs. We Opened rapid fire and drove them off, and for 
the rest of the night there was little to do but dig or try to 
keep awake and watch the German firework display. This was 
on a big scale. On our left the enemy was apparently fearing 
an attack, for our line had been rather held up in the daytime, 
and Very lights were being fired into the air by the hundred. 
To our front, green, white, and red lights were going up, and all 


the time there was the booming of our guns and the flash of 
our shells. 

At midnight one platoon of the Fusiliers and two platoons 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment were holding White Trench. The 
remainder of the Fusiliers held part of Beetle Alley, Maple 
Trench, and Strong Point No. 5. The remainder of the Bed- 
fordshire Regiment also held part of Beetle Alley, Montauban 
Alley as far as the junction with Loop Trench, as well as Pom- 
miers Redoubt and Trench. The Northamptonshire Regiment 
occupied Bund Trench, Black Alley, and five strong points. 
The Middlesex Regiment was in our original front line. 

Three officers of the Bedfordshire Regiment were awarded 
the M.C. for gallant work in and around Pommiers Redoubt. 
2nd-Lieutenant (now Major) W. J. W. Colley was one of the 
only two officers who survived the attack on the Redoubt. 
" He was [says the official account of his action] absolutely 
regardless of any fire, however hot. In fact, he appeared to 
enjoy it. This example was of the greatest value, for the task 
of consolidation under heavy fire was carried out most thor- 
oughly. He organized several bombing parties, and helped to 
clear out both Beetle Alley and Montauban Alley at a critical 
time, when both flanks of the Brigade were in the air owing 
to the Brigades on the left and right being held up." 

Another M.C. went to Captain (now Lieutenant-Colonel) A. E. 
Percival, of the same battalion, of whom the official account 
says : " His coolness under heavy shell and machine-gun fire 
was an inspiring example to his men. His dispositions to make 
defensive flanks were quite excellent. It was owing to his 
initiative that Montauban Alley was eventually cleared of the 
enemy as far as its junction with Loop Trench, which resulted 
in assisting the Brigade on our right to make good its final 
objective. His example, went far to maintaining the high 
morale of his men." 

The medical officer of the Bedfordshire Regiment, Captain 
J. W. Turner, R.A.M.C., who also won the M.C, left the assembly 
trenches shortly after the first waves had gone over,, and did 
not reach Pommiers Redoubt till three in the afternoon, spend- 
ing seven hours on the ground in between, tending the wounded 
both of the 54th and 53rd Brigades, under heavy shelling and 
continual machine-gun fire from the right. His orderly was 
killed beside him, and he then carried on unaided. The Bed- 
fordshire Regiment will remember that it was the same gallant 
doctor who, on the afternoon of July i8th, when the cook- 
house was being heavily shelled, remained with the wounded, 
in spite of the shells continually bursting around. 

On the morning of July 2nd the Bedfordshire Regiment was 
withdrawn to Carnoy, and the Fusiliers took over the defence of 
the Brigade front. On the 3rd the Fusiliers, in their turn, 
went back to Carnoy, handing over to the Middlesex Regiment. 


That night one of our patrols got in touch with a patrol of 
the 53rd Brigade in Caterpillar Wood, and on the following day 
the Middlesex Regiment took over a part of the 53rd Brigade's 
front, in addition to our own, holding it till relieved on the 
6th by the Bedfordshire Regiment. 

During the night of 4th-5th the Middlesex Regiment sent 
forward one company to Caterpillar Wood (half right, about 
1,500 yards from the Redoubt), with a detachment at Marl- 
brough Wood. An officer patrol was sent forward from Cater- 
pillar Wood towards Bazentin-le-Petit to reconnoitre the village, 
and was cutting the wire in front of the German second line 
when our artillery started on the same task. " This made the 
patrol retire," says an official narrative, and it would be difficult 
to improve on that brief dismissal of a very unpleasant situation. 

A patrol sent out towards Mametz Wood on the night of 
July 2nd-3rd found four German field guns deserted about 
300 or 400 yaids from White Trench. Accordingly, plans were 
made to bring them in, and on the night of July 4th-3th the 
Brigade started the i8th Division's fittle collection by getting 
two of them safely inside our lines. Those who remember the 
remarkable collection of trophies grouped outside Divisional 
headquarters at Le Cateau in the last days of the war — a group 
to which the Brigade had very materially contributed — will 
appreciate how well this habit of appropriating German guns, 
once formed, was kept up. 

On this night of July 4th, IQ16, Captain (now Major) S. F. 
Shepherd, of the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment, was ordered 
to report with three other officers and 100 men to a R.E. 
officer at a certain camp. All they knew was they were detailed 
for a certain fatigue — for fatigues were fatigues in those days, 
before the brilliant notion of making them enjoyable by calling 
them " working parties " had been thought of — and there was 
no hint of the exciting task that lay before them. 

At the dump they were told about the four German guns, 
and were given orders to bring them in. It was a cheerful 
" fatigue." The night was pitch dark, no one knew exactly 
where the Germans were, except that our patrols were generally 
fired on, and the party, after going " over the top " for the 
first time in a big show four days before, 1 ad been under heavy 
shelling ever since. 

The R.E. officer led the way down White Trench. When 
they had gone as far as they could, he pointed vaguely in the 
direction where the guns would be found, if luck were good, 
and then turned back, saying that he would prepare bridges 
over our trenches for the guns to be dragged across. 

Captain Shepherd got out of the trench, and began stumbling 
among the shell-holes and debris-^that is the time when you 
alternatively curse the darkness for hiding the obstacles and 
thank it for hiding yourself ! — till at last he found the guns. 


Two of them had smashed wheels, but the other two were in 
good condition and could be moved. FaUing and bkmdering 
back to the trench, he sent out a covering party, and led the 
rest of the men to the guns. Thirty men and an officer were 
detailed to one gun, given the general direction of our line, and 
started on their way back. Then Captain Shepherd began to 
get the second gun-team ready, but while doing so saw, to his 
horror, that the first gun was being dragged towards the Bosche 
lines, direction having been lost at some shell-hole. He rushed 
out, put this gun on the right way again, and returned to find 
that the second one had started on its journey and finished up 
among the wire of a strong point held by the Middlesex Regi- 

Bear in mind that, with all the care in the world, the noise 
of dragging the guns was — or at any rate seemed to be — terrific, 
for a gun that is being man-handled across No Man's Land in 
the darkness seems to acquire all the obstinacy and perversity 
of a mule. Remember, too, that no one knew where the German 
wire was, and that on occasions like this the coolest-headed is 
apt to see a Bosche in every shadow. Once some dark figures 
were seen dimly at a little distance, and an officer crept out, 
revolver in hand, to look. Happily it was only a part of our 
own covering party. 

At last the second gun was cut out of the Middlesex Regiment's 
wire — Middlesex congratulations not yet to hand ! — and the 
uphill journey back to our front line was completed without 
further mishap. But there another difficulty arose. The R.E. 
officer appeared and said his men had not turned up, so no 
bridge could be thrown across the trench. 

The men were given a breather in the trench, and then it was 
decided to knock in the sides and drag the guns across. This 
was done, the covering party was left behind to rebuild the 
trench, and it seemed that the task was nearly over, for orders 
were to haul the guns another 300 or 400 yards, just over the 
crest of the slope, where gunners with horses would meet them. 

The rendezvous was reached, but no men or horses were 
there. Later it was found that the artillery thought that the 
job was to be done on the next night. So there was nothing 
else to be done but to haul the guns another mile farther back — 
and how the Northamptonshire men began to hate those guns ! 
— till at last men and guns alike were in safety. It was then 
just dawn, and the " fatigue," which had begun at dusk, was 
safely accomplished without the loss of a single man. 

The next day the guns were seen being taken back by artillery 
men to Mellecourt, with a board on them which read, " Cap- 
tured by the i8th Division," and the Northamptonshifes never 
saw their guns again. 

On July 8th the Brigade was relieved by the 9th Brigade, 
and the battalions were marched back to camp in the Bois des 


Tallies. Then there were sleep and concerts and baths — and 
the greatest of these was sleep — and a visit by Sir Ivor Maxse, 
who told the officers how well the Brigade had done. And thus 
ended the first phase of the Somrae offensive, so far as this 
Brigade was concerned. 

Trigger Valley. 

Chapter V 


'TpHE Brigade was not to have a long rest. Early on July 12th 
* came orders to move up to Maricourt and Trigger Valley, in 
support of the 55th Brigade, and by twelve noon on the follow- 
ing day the dispositions were as follows : — • 

Brigade Headquarters 
nth Royal Fusiliers 
7th Bedfordshire Regiment 
Trench Mortar Battery 
Machine Gun Company (less 

two sections) 
6th Northamptonshire Regt. \ 
I section Machine Gun Com- - Maricourt. 

pany. ) 

1 2th Middlesex Regiment \ Original front line British 

One section Machine Gun I trenches between Mari- 

Company [ court-Briqueterie road 

I and Machine Gun Wood. 

That afternoon the Northamptonshire and Middlesex Regi- 
ments were placed at the disposal of G.O.C. 55th Brigade, who 
had been ordered to recapture Trones Wood. The Northamp- 
tonshires remained were they were. One company of the Middle- 
sex Regiment was moved to Bernafay Wood, and headquarters 
and the other three companies were moved to a former German 
trench known as Dublin Trench. During the night of July 
1 3th- 14th the Middlesex Regiment was again moved, a company 
being sent to Sunken Road and one to Trones Wood. The 
scattered state of the battalion must be borne in mind in follow- 
ing later events. 

In the dark and early hours of July 14th, shortly after mid- 
night, a telephone message was received from Divisional head- 
quarters stating that the 55th Brigade attack on Trones Wood 
the previous evening had failed, and that the 34th Brigade 
would attack and capture the wood at all costs in order to 
protect the right flank of the 3rd and 9th Divisions in their 
attack on the German second line between Longueval and Bazen- 
tin-le-Petit Wood. 

The Fusiliers and Bedfordshire Regiment were at once set on 
the move, the former with orders for Dublin Trench, and the 



latter for Maricourt. A Fusilier officer's diary has the follow- 
ing note on this stage of the proceedings : — - 

" Suddenly awakened at i a.m., and told we have to 
move at once. No one knows where we have to go. The 
battalion falls in, packs are dumped, and in a very short 
time we are ready for any scrap. 

" Just as we reach Maricourt our guns begin to make 
an unearthly din. Various rumours are going about tliat 
Trones Wood has been taken, and that we have to recap- 
ture it. The guns get more and more active. Suddenly 
we get to the forward edge of the village, and see a lovely 
sight. The whole sky is lit up with gun-flashes and Very 

" Dawn breaks and shows us clouds of smoke. The 
Germans are putting a barrage on Trones Wood. We get 
orders to move up to Dublin Trench. Just as we get off, 
the Huns start a barrage on the Maricourt-Briqueterie 
Road. We have one casualty, a poor devil who gets his 
head blown off by a large piece of shrapnel ; but the men 
keep in their fours and go on as if nothing had happened." 

It was decided to attack from the southern extremity of 
the wood, to drive from south to north, and to establish a 
defensive flank facing east on the eastern edge of the wood 
as it was occupied. The Middlesex Regiment was to attack, 
supported by the Northamptonshire Regiment, who were to 
" mop up " and establish the defensive flank. 

A railway runs through the wood, east and west, at about 
the centre. As the position of our troops who made the un- 
successful attack was uncertain on the south of this line, it was 
decided that the barrage should commence on the railway at 
4.30 a.m., when the assaulting battalions might be expected to 
have reached that line, and then step slowly in front of our 

Owing to difficulties of communication, all telephone wires 
being continually cut by shell fire, Lieutenant-Colonel F. A. 
Maxwell, V.C., D.S.O., commanding the 12th Middlesex Regi- 
ment, was given the command of the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment as well during the actual assault. 

Colonel INIaxwell had come to the Brigade with a big reputa- 
tion as a fine fighting soldier, and during his command of the 
Middlesex Regiment (from June to October, 1916) he enhanced 
that reputation, if it were possible. His old officers and men felt 
it as a heavy personal loss when he was afterwards killed while 
commanding a Brigade. 

One of his old officers gives the following little picture of his 
cool behaviour on this occasion : — 

" It was in Trones Wood on July 15th," (he writes) "Colonel 
Maxwell had gathered his company commanders round him to 


take down some orders. He was at the bottom or broad end of 
the Wood, and 5'9's were coming down all round us about 
two a minute. Colonel Maxwell stood in the centre of the 
group, and his orders, which he was giving out verbally, were 
drowned every moment by the e.xplosion of a shell within a 
radius of 25 to 50 yards. He merely blew the earth off his paper 
each time, rapped out ' Anybody hurt ?' and with a little smile 
proceeded. This happened at least three times in a few minutes. 
We were all delighted when the orders were completed." 

But to return to the early hours before the attack. The 
Northamptonshire and Middlese.x Regiments were ordered to 
rendezvous in the sunken road about 1,000 yards south-west 
of the Wood. On arriving there Colonel Maxwell found the 
Northamptonshire Regiment (temporarily under the command 
of Major Clark, Major Charrington being still at Brigade head- 
quarters) ready to move. But only one company of the Middle- 
sex Regiment was here. As already pointed out, they had 
been scattered over a rather wide area. At that moment a 
second company was on its way from Dublin Trench, a third 
was actually in Trones Wood, and the fourth was still in Bernafay 
Wood out of all touch, and did not rejoin the battalion till the 
morning of the 15th. 

In these circumstances, and owing to the fact that dawn was 
breaking. Colonel Maxwell decided to use the Northamptonshire 
Regiment as the assaulting battalion, and the Middlesex Regi- 
ment, as it came up, for clearing purposes, and to form the 
defensive flank. 

So at 4 a.m., at about two minutes' notice so far as company 
officers and the men were concerned, the Northamptonshire 
Regiment set out. supported by two companies of the Middlesex 
Regiment. To reach the south-west corner of the Wood, 
they had to pass over about 1,000 yards of open ground 
under an exceptionally heavy barrage of 59's and larger shells. 
But, in spite of heavy losses, the advance went forward with 
great determination. Soon after entering the Wood Major 
Clark was killed while gallantly reconnoitring ahead of his men. 
About 200 yards inside the south-west edge of the Wood th.; 
battalion came under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, and the 
two leading companies at once attacked on their own initiative. 
Shortly afterwards Colonel Maxwell and Major Charrington 
arrived, but by this time the Northamptonshire Regiment had 
fought their way forward into the blue, and no signs of them 
could be found. One company of the Middlesex Regiment was 
found in a trench about 150 yards inside the Wood, where they 
had been during the previous night, and two other companies 
of the same battalion now arrived from the sunken road. 

No news of the Northamptonshire liegiment was received for 
some little time, except two verbal messages asking for more 
bombs, which suggested that the good work was being carried 


on, and a company of the Middlesex Regiment, under Captain 
Dennis, was sent to deal with a strong point at the south-east 
edge of the Wood, on the Guillemont road. 

It will now be more convenient to follow the movements of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, as far as they can be pieced to- 
gether from messages received by Major Charrington, who had 
now taken over command, statements by company officers, and 
letters from wounded officers. 

About 5 a.m. one company was bombing its way up a trench 
which ran north-east from the south-west corner of the Wood, 
and ended in a strong point about 350 yards from the edge. 
This strong point was holding up the advance'. Major Clark 
was by this time killed. 

Major Charrington pushed forward, and found two companies 
pushing through the undergrowth to attack the strong point, 
which was resisting with heavy rifle and machine-gun fire. 
Captain Shepherd, though severely wounded in the shoulder, 
was standing up in the open cheering on his men in a very gallant 
way, and continued to lead them till exhausted. By this time 
a fresh supply of bombs came up, the attack was pushed home, 
and the strong point was captured soon after 6 a.m., the enemy 
leaving about fifty dead around this fiercely-contested spot. 
For his gallant leading and fine example at this point Captain 
Shepherd was awarded the M.C. 

Corporal J. Freeman and Lance-Corporal L. T. Roberts won 
Military Medals in the taking of this strong point, bombing with 
great courage and accuracy, and always keeping their men push- 
ing forward up the trench in spite of heavy casualties. 

Wood-fighting in the summer-time, when the trees and under- 
growth are full of foliage, is necessarily bhndfold work, and, in 
spite of the heavy shelling, Trones Wood was still sufficiently 
thick and entangled to make communication and co-operation 
somewhat difficult. It is therefore not surprising to find that 
Colonel Maxwell was for some time ill-informed as to the 
position, and especially as to how the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment was getting on. 

At 9 a.m. Captain Podmore reported all Trones Wood secured, 
with the exception of the strong point at the south-east edge 
on the Guillemont road, which Captain Dennis of the Middlesex 
Regiment was tackling. As a matter of fact, the strong point 
fell to the Middlesex Regiment, with the assistance of some 7th 
Buffs and a Stokes mortar, just about the time this message 
was received. It is clear that by this time 2nd-Lieutenant 
Redhead (Northamptonshire Regiment), who had been sent by 
Captain Podmore to work north through the Wood, had done so 
with great success, moving up the west side and down the east 
side till he reached the strong point on the Guillemont road. 
Some enemy weie seen running away in disorder from the eastern 
edge of the Wood towards Guillemont under fire from the machine 


guns of the Middlesex Regiment, who were now in the strong 
point, and two Lewis guns which the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment had got into position on the eastern edge. 

The next definite news is a message from 2nd-Lieutenant 
(now Major) T. R. Price of the Northamptonshire Regiment, 
stating that he had taken over " B " Company, and was holding 
his position about the middle of the eastern edge of the Wood. 
After doing much good work with his own platoon this day, 
2nd-Lieutenant Price took over " B " Company when no other 
officers were left, and, although wounded in the leg, carried on 
till the next day, when officer reinforcements arrived. 

About this time " D " Company of the Fusiliers was sent into 
the Wood to reinforce, and No. 14 platoon was used to garrison 
the strong point which had been taken by the Middlesex Regi- 
ment. The other platoons were withdrawn to prevent unneces- 
sary casualties, as the Germans were now throwing into the 
Wood everything that came to hand. 

To return to the troops under the direct command of Colonel 

At about 8 a.m. Colonel Maxwell went to the eastern edge of 
the Wood to try and clear up the situation, and learned from 
Captain Dennis that the Middlesex company had not yet taken 
the strong point. However, it was clear that the German 
garrison of the strong point was being kept thoroughly amused, 
and too interested in its own troubles to be of any far-reaching 
danger. He therefore pushed a little way into the Wood, but 
found only a small party of the Northamptonshire Regiment 
about 100 yards inside. 

As a result of this reconnaissance he came to the conclusion 
that, with the exception of the parties he had first seen, and 
the two Middlesex companies he had left at his headquarters at 
the south-west corner of the Wood, there were no organized 
units visible, as he had then no news of the rest of the North- 
amptonshire Regiment. He therefore decided to start afreshj 
and, collecting every available man, to form a line across the 
Wood and sweep northwards. For this purpose he got together 
a number of Middlesex and Northamptonshire men, and began 
to beat the woods. Tittle opposition was met, and there were 
few casualties 4111 he neared the first of the two railway lines 
that run east and west through the Wood. Here a German 
machine gun opened on the line from near the western edge, 
and a hitherto unknown strong point was located. 

The line was halted, and Colonel Maxwell, taking seventy men 
with him, attacked this strong point, and after a rather acri- 
monious discussion with bomb and bullet, destroyed the whole 
of the German garrison, and captured the machine gun. 

The line was then re-formed, and the sweep through the woods 
continued. It appears probable that by this time all the men of 
the Northamptonshire Regiment who had disappeared into 


the Wood early in the morning were hning a part of the eastern 
edge of the wood. After crossing the second railway line, 
hardly a single German was seen in the dense wood to the front, 
but a number began to break cover to our right, on the eastern 
edge. Colonel Maxwell ordered every man to hre as he advanced, 
and this seems to have had a steadying effect on the men's 
nerves, as well as decreasing the enemy's morale, for no further 
serious opposition was encountered. As the enemy broke away 
eastward towards Guillemont, the Northamptonshire's Lewis 
guns already posted on that edge of the Wood did some pretty 
work. It must have been these driven Germans to whom the 
Northamptonshire Regiment's report of about 9 a.m. (from 
2nd-Lieutenant Redhead) had referred. 

Still moving in line formation. Colonel Maxwell's party swept 
to the apex of the Wood, and there steps were taken to dispose 
the various units and their Lewis guns along the eastern edge. 

The whole of the Wood was now in our hands, and it was evi- 
dent that the three strong points already referred to were the 
chief German defences. After these were captuied our troops 
had chiefly to contend with snipers and detached bodies of the 
enemy making their wa}' northward and Eastward. 

Once the whole Wood was in our possession and the eastern 
edge consolidated as a defensive flank, the enemy made no 
attempt to counter-attack, but subjected the place to incessant 
and heavy shelling from guns of large calibre. 

Casualties during the attack, apart from the subsequent 
occupation, were heavy. The Northamptonshire Regiment lost 
seven officers killed and eight wounded, and had about 300 
casualties among other ranks. The Middlesex Regiment had 
four officers wounded and 150 casualties in other ranks. 

During these operations Sergeant WilUam E. Boulter, of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, won the V.C. The official account 
of his action reads : — 

" During the capture of Trones Wood one company and 
a portion of another company was held up by a machine 
gun which was causing heavy casualties. 

" Sergeant Boulter, reaUzing the situation, with complete 
disregard of his personal safety, and in spite of being severely 
wounded in the shoulder, advanced alone across the open 
in front of the gun under heavy fire, and bombed the team 
from their position, thereby saving the lives of many of his 
comrades and materially assisting the advance which event- 
ually cleared Trones Wood." 

The Northamptonshire padre. Captain E A. Bennett, had 
been a prominent figure throughout the day of hard fighting. 
As on July ist, he went everywhere, often under the hottest 
fire, seeking out the wounded and tending them, a work he 
continued all through the nights following these battles. On 

Pholo : Duy'c] 



Who Commanded the 5+th Infantry Brigade, March to December, 1915 

To face page 48. 


the evening after the capture of Trones Wood, Lieutenant 
Newberry, the Northamptonshire medical officer, was killed 
while gallantly attending the wounded, and Captain Bennett 
thereupon took charge of the stretcher-bearers, superintending 
their work till another doctor could be sent up. The stretcher- 
bearers themselves did splendidly. One of them, Private G. 
Adams, was awarded the Military Medal. " During July 14th 
and the two succeeding days [says the official account] he showed 
the greatest devotion to duty under a heavy fire which killed 
and wounded many of his comrades." Privates W. Easson, 
H. Pearn, and J. Goodman were also prominent in gallant work 
as stretcher-bearers. 

The heavy casualties among officers threw a great responsi- 
bility on the N.C.Os. of the Northamptonshire Regiment, and 
they were not found wanting. Sergeants J. Partridge and 
E. C. Pullen took command of their respective companies, in 
very trying circumstances, when all their officers had been killed, 
and led them with great courage and ability. Platoons were 
led, after their officers had been killed, by Sergeants H. Peek 
and W. Sullivan and Corporal E, W. Tack. 

While Corporal E. Radley was out on a reconnaissance, he 
ran into a party of four Germans. He at once went for them 
with his bare fists, knocked one out, returned and reported to 
his officer, and then took out a party of bombers, who dealt 
with the rest of the Germans. 

Volunteering to go forward and look for snipers who were 
hiding in shell-holes, Private J. F. Norris came across two with 
a machine gun. He ordered them out of their shell-hole, shot 
them when they refused, and brought in their machine gun 
under heavy fire. 

The importance and difficulty of communication in such a 
task as the capture of Trones Wood are obvious, and the Middle- 
sex Regiment was well served by Corporals A. Jackson and 
R. Clayton, who were continually under heavy shell fire lajdng 
and mending telephone wires. 

On the night of July 1 6th- 17th the battalions were relieved in 
the wood, and by the 19th the whole Brigade was again in camp 
in the Bois des Tallies. Then came several train journeys, and 
by August 8th the Brigade was up north and in the line in the 
Armentieres sector. 

On the whole, it was a quiet time, and in at least one part 
of the line a new.spaper boy used to come round each morning. 
Battalions out of the line were sent by turn in 'busses to the 
Bois de Nieppe for training in wood-fighting. By the end of 
the month the Brigade had gone south again, and was training 
in the St. Pol area ; and on September 23rd all the battalions 
were at Hedauville and Varennes, a few miles north-west of 
Albert, ready for the next great show, the capture of Thiepval 
and the Schwaben Redoubt. 


It was during this period of training for Thiepval that the 
Trench Mortar Battery gave a demonstration of the new FouHs 
adapter. " Very successful ; cut the top off the cap of a spec- 
tator, an officer who had just returned from hospital with 
shell-shock," is the cheery report on the proceedings by the 
Tock Emma wallahs themselves. 

Chapter VI 

T H I E P V A I. 

P^OR two years British and French troops had been looking up 
•■■ the slope from the Ancre to the battered village of Thiepval 
on the crest, where at last, after many bombardments and un- 
successful assaults, nothing could be seen but the ruins of the 
old Chateau. 

It was known that the Germans attached great importance to 
the position, for it gave them their last remaining observation 
posts over the Albert area. Also it was a bastion hindering 
our further advance in this sector, a nasty salient in our line. 

Owing to recent successful fighting it was now possible to 
attack from the south, the jumping-off point for the 54th Brigade 
being a trench running east and west, about 500 yards south of 
Chateau Redoubt, and at a distance varying from 100 to 250 
yards from the German front line. The old British front line, 
running roughly north and south, enabled the artillery to enfilade 
the German position from the west. 

In considering the dispositions and tasks of the 54th Brigade 
it is necessary to have a clear picture of the situation in mind. 
Imagine that Trafalgar Square was Thiepval village. For two 
years our front line had been where the Thames Embankment 
stands, and the Germans had naturally an elaborate system of 
trenches, strong points, and dug-outs facing that front. But 
we were now able to attack along the Strand towards the Square, 
and our left-hand battalion must thus fight its way along the 
whole length of the old German front line trench system. Our 
whole attack, in fact, was a fiank attack along the original 
German front. 

" The i8oth Regiment of Wurtemburgers have withstood 
attacks on Thiepval f . r two years, but the 1 8th' Division will 
take it to-morrow." That was the word passed round on the 
night of September 25th, and everyone was full of confidence. 
The troops were trained to the minute ; attack formations had 
been practised till it could be expected that the advance would 
push through to its final objective as a drill movement, what- 
ever the obstacles or casualties. It was known, too, that the 
artillery preparation had been terrific. As our men took their 
places in the assembly trenches it was whispered that before 
" zero " 60,000 rounds of field artillery and 45,000 rounds of 
heavy stuff would have been fired by the 2nd Corps alone and 
that a big dose of gas was being put into the village overnight. 
Clearl}' the Prussians and \\'urtemburgers who held the place 
were having a thin time. 

51 e2 


The .54th Brigade were on the left of the Divisional front, 
the 33rd Brigade being on our right. 

That Thiepval and Schwaben I^edoubt — the latter being a 
little farther north, and dealt with in the next chapter — will ever 
remain among the proudest memories of the Brigade, and that 
they were justified in the value they set on the feat is shown 
by the following words written afterwards by Sir Ivor Maxse : — 

" The capture of Thiepval village and Schwaben Redoubt 
were distinct and important episodes even in a great 
European war. They involved in each case a deliberate 
assault and the capture of a considerable depth of intricate 
trenches, defended by stubborn regiments who had held 
their ground against many previous attacks. After visiting 
the ground in leisure and in peace, I am to this day lost in 
admiration at the grit shown by" the British battalions 
which fought continuously from September 26th to Octo- 
ber 5th, and conquered such strongholds as Thiepval and 

To the 12th Middlesex Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel F. A. 
Maxwell, V.C., D.S.O.) was given the task of capturing Chateau 
Redoubt and the village, while to the nth Royal Fusiliers 
(Lieutenant-Colonel C. C. Carr) was given the difficult left flank, 
where it had to deal with the trenches and dug-outs of the 
original German front line, which covered Thiepval from the 
west. As it was known that the Brigade had the toughest job 
in the Division that day, it was given a front of only 300 yards. 
The distance to the final objective was 1,800 yards. 

It gives some idea of the strength of the position which the 
Germans had been holding and improving for two years to 
know that a captured German map showed 144 deep dug-outs 
in the area allotted to the 54th Brigade, without counting the 
deep dug-outs around the Chateau Redoubt, and several strong 
points on the enemy's original front fine, along which the Fusi- 
liers were to fight their way. 

Behind the Fusiliers and the Middlesex Regiment was the 
6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel 
G. E. Ripley) in close support, and the 7th Battalion Bedford- 
shire Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel G. D. Price) was in reserve 
in dug-outs in Thiepval Wood and the Bluff to the west. 

The Fusilier companies were necessarily rather scattered. 
" D " Company (Captain R. H. V. Thompson), with two machine 
guns and two trench mortars, was detailed to clear the enemy's 
front-line trenches. " C " Company (Lieutenant, now Lieu- 
tenant-Colonel, A. E. Sulman) was sent over with the Middlesex 
to " mop up," a job so well done that practically all Germans 
left behind the leading waves were silenced, and there were no 
cases of the assaulting battalion being shot in the back as it 
advanced. The other companies were sent over in support. 


Zero hour was 12.35 pm. on September 26th. A Fusilier 
officer who went over with " D " Comptmy made the following 
entry in his diary : — 

" We hoped to disturb the Bosche in the middle of his 
dinner. Our assembly trench was shelled rather heavily 
at about 12.15, and we thought at first that we had been 
discovered. However, no one in our company was hurt, 
and after about tc^i rounds of 5'9's we had peace. Our 
shelling had been merely normal, but at 12.35 the biggest 
barrage ever u.sed was to open out. 

With the first shell we were over the top, and had gone 
several yards before the barrage had really started. When 
it did start — my word ! It came with a fearful ear-splitting 
crashing and rending, thousands of shells bursting almost 
simultaneously. We met Bosches running about, scared 
out of their wits, like a crowd of rabbits diving for their 
holes. Men were rushing about unarmed, men were holding 
up their hands and yelling for mercy, men were scuttling 
about everywhere, trying to get away from that born 
fighter, the Cockney, but they had very little chance. 

" I had the pleasure of shooting foui of them before I 
was wounded in the wrist. After this everything seems 
blurred. I found myself in a shell-hole with one of my 
men who was also wounded. We patched each other up, 
and then went on. I have visions of excited men tearing 
after the Bosches, visions of men sitting over dug-out 
entrances waiting to shoot the first Bosche that appeared." 

Both battalions got away well, close up to the barrage. The 
German barrage came down on our front line five minutes later, 
but most of the assaulting troops had already been got forward, 
distances being corrected in No Man's Land, and the left of our 
Hue (chiefly " A " and " B " Companies, Fusiliers) was the only 
part to suffer. 

The Fusiliers were the first to get into grips with the enemy, 
a strong point being encountered where Brawn Trench joined 
the old German front line. This held up " D " Company, and 
also the left flank of the Middlesex, but the rest of the attack 
went on. Captain Thompson sent part of his company over 
the top to help the Middlesex Regiment in Brawn Trench, and 
led the rest of his men against the strong point. Unhappily, he 
was killed just as the strong point was being successfully rushed, 
and in the hand-to-hand fighting that followed Ueutenant 
R. A. Mall-Smith was also killed and Lieutenant G. E. Cornaby 
wounded. A great number of CJermans were killed here, and 
twenty-five were taken prisoners and sent back. 

" D " Company Fusiliers now continued along the German 
front line, fighting every yard of their way. Lewis guns that 
were pushed up did useful work shooting along the trench, 


and accounting for great numbers of Germans as tfiey ran from 

In the meantime the general hne had moved on towards 
the Chateau, but was checked there by deadly machine-gun fire. 
Just at this moment the first of the two tanks allotted to the 
Brigade came waddling across from Thiepval Wood. This 
aroused tremendous interest and enthusiasm. Tanks had made 
their first dramatic appearance on any battlefields oidy ten days 
before, but already their fame was on every tongue, and the 
news that two of them were to help us had been passed round 
overnight. The first arrival left the Wood at zero and was 
timed to reach the Chateau at the same time as the assaulting 
infantry. This part of the time table worked well. The enemy 
machine guns were effectively dealt with, and the leading com- 
panies of the Middlesex Regiment passed the ruins right and 

According to programme, this tank, with its fellow, who was 
now coming up, should have led the infantry into Thiepval, 
stayed there so long as was necessary to squash any " self- 
determination " on the part of the German colony, and then 
moved on to show Schwaben Redoubt how a public nuisance 
should be checked. But, unhappily, both tanks became 
" ditched " near the Chateau, and the infantry had to carry on 
without them. 

At the Chateau a trench mortar was brought into action in 
unorthodox style. A section that had started out with two 
guns and ten shell-carriers arrived there with only one barrel 
and three rounds of ammunition. These were fired by using 
a man's shoulder instead of a stand, and a steel helmet as 

Our left was now badly held up by continuous machine-gun 
fire from the German front line, and a part of the leading com- 
pany of the Fusiliers which attempted to get astride the trench 
was engaged in fighting at this point till next morning. 

The position at about i p.m. was roughly as follows : — 

The right of the Middlesex Regiment was still getting on well, 
but the left was making only slow progress, as, in addition to 
holding his old front strongly, the Bosche had a large number 
of men in the left or west corner of the ruin which had once 
been Thiepval. The left company of the Fusiliers was still 
engaged on the old 'German front Hne. The dug-out clearing 
party of that battalion was near the Chateau, with the Middlesex 
Regiment, and the other two companies of the F"usiliers were 
approaching the left of the village. Major Hudson (" A " Com- 
pany), seeing the Middlesex Regiment in difficulties about the 
Chateau, at once pushed forward his men to their assistance. 
After passing the Chateau the right of our line had no further 
landmarks to guide it, and inclined to the right, so that on 
reaching the first objective it probably overlapped the dividing 


line between this Brigade and the 53rd. Seeing this, Captain 
Johnson, of the Fusiliers, fearing a gap in the attack, put in his 
company and attacked northwards. This resulted in the final 
capture of the first objective. 

The fighting up to this point, as it was seen by a Fusilier 
officer, is thus described : — 

" On the left ' D ' Company had very hard fighting along 
the old Bosche front line. They were eventually held up on that 
line about level with the Chateau, having got on well, but with 
very heavy losses. Captain Thompson was hit in the head, but 
continued fighting until hit again and killed. Of the three 
platoon commanders, one was killed, one wounded, and one 
(Hawkins) stunned by the explosion of a trench-mortar shell, 
but kept on with the company. 

" ' C ' Company killed a great many Bosches in a trench 
about 250 yards west of the Chateau, and running north and 
south. Along this same trench Major Hudson, of ' A ' Company, 
was hit through the shoulder, but continued until the final fine 
was taken and consolidated. On his way down he got a bullet 
through the thigh, breaking the bone, and died a few days 

" Battalion headquarters in the Leipzig Salient had had no 
news of the fight, so at about 1.15 Colonel Carr took headquarters 
forward. There was still an intense barrage, and a number of 
men were hit going up On getting to the Chateau ruins, which 
were merely a heap of broken bricks, we found that Colonel 
Maxwell, commanding 12th Middlesex, had just arrived there. 
As there was no doubt as to what was happening on the left 
(' D ' Company's sector). Colonel Carr and Captain Cumberlege, 
the adjutant, proceeded in that direction. A machine gun 
immediately opened on us from very short range, and Colonel 
Carr got three bullets through various parts of him — fortunately 
none of them serious — and Cumberlege was also hit. Major 
Hudson had been hit just previously, so Captain Johnson was 
now in command of the Fusiliers until the evening, when Major 
Meyricke, the second-in-command, who had been left out, came 
up and took over. But Colonel Maxwell virtually commanded 
both battalions, and also two companies of Northamptonshires 
who had come up. Colonel Ripley, of the Northamptonshires, 
having also been wounded (he afterwards died). 

" The line eventually held was about 300 yards in front of 
the Chateau. The Bosche shelled the whole area, and particu- 
larly the trench from which the attack had started, until dark, 
but slacked off during the night. 

" For some hours during the night Colonel Maxwell was writing 
diligently page after page — it was supposed popularly to be a 
letter to his wife. Shells were passing over and dropping all 
the time, and one runner who had the wind up gave a groan 
every time one came. Suddenly Maxwell got up from his writing, 


saying, ' I can't stand this any longer — send that man here.' 
He then told everyone round to stand in a line, said, ' I'll give 
him the first kick — the rest of you pass him along,' and the runner 
was passed out into the dark. 

" The next day I went up to look for Captain Thompson, and 
found him. We buried him at the cemetery at Black Horse 
Bridge, Authville. He was probably the best company com- 
mander the battalion ever had." 

But to return to the events of the day. 

The first objective (roughly the road from Mouquet farm run- 
ning through Thiepval towards the wood) having been taken, 
progress became slower. Practically every inch of the ground 
had to be covered, as, in addition to the organized defence, 
snipers were in every other shell-hole. 

It was at this point that Lance-Corporal L. Tovey, of the 
Fusihers, distinguished him.self. A machine gun suddenly 
appeared and fired on our line. He dashed straight at it and 
bayoneted both the gunners. Later, during the confused 
fighting in the village, he led his comrades when nearly all the 
officers and senior N.C.Os. had become casualties. Unhappily, 
he was shot through the head and killed before the day's work 
was done. 

Just about the same time Private L. Piatt won the Military 
Medal. He took back a message from the front line to head- 
quarters asking for reinforcements, after two men had already 
been killed trying to get the same message through. He then 
guided the reinforcements up under fire so heavy that less than 
a third of them reached the line. 

The snipers who were such a pest at this stage had a thin time 
whenever Company Sergeant-Major (afterwards Regimental 
Sergeant-Major) G. R. Taylor got at them. In the official ac- 
count of the action for which he was awarded the D.C.M. it 
states : — 

" This Warrant Officer, with the utmost fearlessness, sought 
out enemy snipers and killed several in personal duels. He 
coolly assisted his company commander in reorganization, and 
arranged most ably the despatch to the front line of men, S.A.A., 
and bombs." 

It was about the same time that two Middlesex men, Privates 
R. Ryder and F. J. Edwards, won V.Cs. 

The official account of Private Edwards's action was as 
follows : — 

" His part of the line was held up by a machine gun. The 
officers had all become casualties. There was confusion and 
even suggestion of retirement. Private Edwards grasped the 
situation at once. Alone, and on his own initiative, he dashed 
towards the gun, which he bombed until he succeeded in knocking 
it out. By this gallant act, performed with great presence of 
mind, and with complete disregard for his personal safety, this 


man made possible the continuance of the advance, and solved 
a dangerous situation. His was probably one of those decisive 
actions which determine the success or failure of an operation." 

Private Ryder's action was officially recorded as follows : — 

" His company was held up by heavy fire from the trench 
in front of them, and ail his officers had become casualties. The 
attack was flagging for want of leadership. Private Ryder, 
realizing the situation, without a moment's thought for his own 
safety, dashed absolutely alone at the enemy's trench, and by 
skilful manipulation of his Lewis gun succeeded in clearing the 
trench. By this brilliant act he not only made possible, but 
also inspired the advance of, his comrades. It seems possible 
that this single heroic action made all the difference between 
success and failure in this part of the attacking line." 

Up to the time the first objective was reached " D " Company 
of the Fusiliers had cleared altogether twenty-five dug-outs in 
the front line. In many of them the Germans showed fight, 
especially in one large dug-out where numbers of the enemy with 
two machine guns had established themselves. They were 
invited to come out, but refused, and there was a rather acri- 
monious scene. Finally, the place had to be set on fire to put 
an end to the discussion, as it happened to be one of the Fusiliers' 
busy days, and they had no time to waste on argument. Many 
Germans arc beheved to have perished in the flames, eleven were 
killed as they came out, and fourteen who were wounded were 
taken prisoners. 

As the advance progressed many Germans bolted northwards, 
but, owing to the broken nature of the ground, they were (in 
the graphic phrase of an officer who was present) as difficult to 
hit as snipe, and a large percentage got away. Farther on, 
however, two of the Fusilier Lewis guns (" C " Compan}-) 
enfiladed them as they ran, and Lieutenant Sulman estimated 
that he bagged at least fifty. 

While the left of the Fusilier fine was still busy among the 
trenches and dug-outs, the remainder of " A " Company and 
two platoons of " C " went through to the second objective 
(beyond the right corner of the village) . They there began bomb- 
ing trt the left, and eventually made a block when their supply 
of bombs ran out. During this operation they captured two 
officers and forty-five other ranks, who were sent to the rear. 
It was while advancing to the second objective that Major 
Hudson was hit. Captain Johnson now took command of the 

" C " Company, still clearing dug-outs, and capturing pris- 
oners all the time, did a specially good piece of work about this 
time. Half an hour before zero Lieutenant Sulman had been given 
a captured German map showing the position of their telephone 
headquarters. He showed this to his men, and told them to do 
their best to find the place and to put the exchange and the 
operators out of action. 


Lance-Corporal F. Rudy, with four men, cast about till they 
found the dug-out, which proved to be quite a palatial place, 
with a magnificent installation. They attacked and captured 
it, together with about twenty Germans inside and out, and cut 
all the wires, which afforded direct communication to the enemy 
artillery. Lance-Corporal Rudy then held the place without 
relief or support for twelve hours under the heaviest fire. For 
this he was awarded the D.C.M. 

By this time the Fusilier parties on the left were hung up 
by ( ross-fire from German machine guns in strong points in the 
western side of the village. They also appeared to have their 
flanks in the air, and asked the Middlesex for reinforcements. 
All that was left of two platoons — about fifty men — was sent 
out, but only six men succeeded in getting through. 

At the same time one and a half companies of the same batta- 
lion were on the northern side of the village, but it was impos- 
sible to locate them, owing to the contradictory nature of 
messages received. Most of these messages came from N.C.Os., 
the officers being casualties ; and as many of them had no maps, 
greater accuracy could not be expected. 

Bombing down trenches was now going on at several points, 
and some good individual work was done. Several attempts 
were made by the Fusiliers to rush the strong points on our 
left, but each time they were beaten back by bombs and intense 
cross-fire from machine guns. " It was not unusual " (remarks 
an officer who was there) " to see from twelve to twenty German 
stick-bombs in the air at the same time, and the whole area 
looked like a firework display owing to the number of egg-bombs 
the enemy showered on us." 

A D.C.M. was won at this point by Private H. Bott, of the 
Fusiliers. When the men around him were held up by a machine 
gun, he formed and took command of a bombing party, led them 
up to the trench, bombing as he went, captured the gun, and killed 
the gunners. 

Sergeant P. Adler also did good work here, and later gallantly 
lead his platoon along the enemy front line. " At night " 
(says the official account of the action for which he was awarded 
the M.M.), " though wounded, he repelled intense bombing 
counter-attacks till his own supply of bombs ran out. He then 
collected enemy bombs, and used them to stop the enemy 

The same award was won by Private E. Townend. " When 
his section ran short of bombs " (says the official account), 
" taking the few bombs he had, he advanced with great boldness 
up the trench, and held back the enemy bombers, while the men 
behind him constructed a bomb-stop." 

Lance-Corporal E. W. Hope, who was engaged in clearing 
dug-outs, also did good work. In charge of a bombing section, 
he entered dug-out after dug-out by himself, and cleared them 


of the enemy. On two occasions, meeting armed enemies 
underground, he disposed of them without assistance ; in others 
he sent the occupants up to his party waiting' above. 

Privates J.J. Mumford and E. J. Butler also did good work 
as bombers, and both won the M.M. " for conspicuous, daring, 
and good work in blocking a trench and counter-attacking strong 
enemy bombing parties " (says the official account). " When 
their sergeant and two-thirds of their ccjmrades had become 
casualties, they displayed great courage in assisting their officer 
to repulse the assaults of the enemy." 

The Middlesex men had been displaying equal courage and 
initiative on the right. There was, for instance. Private F. H. 
Hatchard, who won the D.C.M. " At a critical moment " (so 
runs the official account) "the men attached to battalion head- 
quarters were sent up in support when the front iine was held 
up by a strong point. Private Hatchard, who is no longer 
young, is one of the regimental pioneers, and therefore but 
little trained as a fighting man ; but, seeing a machine gun which 
was causing heavy losses, he worked his way alone with a supply 
of bombs to a shell-hole within easy distance. From there he 
threw bombs until he had knocked out the gun team. Later, 
when bombs were running short, he searched the German dug- 
outs, and discovered a large .store. Throughout the night he 
carried these forward and kept the bombers supplied, thus 
enabHng them to hold a most important position." 

Another D.C.M. went to Lance-Corporal A. Woods. " When 
the left flank was held up, and the advance of the left company 
checked, this N.C.O., with a private, attacked and cleared a 
trench which was held by twenty of the enemy with a machine 
gun. This done, he constructed a block, which took him three 
or four hours, hindered by continuous enemy bombing." 

Corporal T. Kempley was another " sticker," and well de- 
.served his MM. For four hours he attacked a strong point, and 
at last bombed his way in. He then proceeded to block the 
trench, and was three times rushed by the enemy, whom he 
drove off on each occasion. All this was done under heavy fire 
from a minenwerfer. 

But to return once more to the situation in the afternoon, 
and the movements of the Northamptonshire Regiment. 

At I p.m. the leading companies left their forming-up trenches 
and began to go forward. By this time a very heavy enemy 
barrage was being put on all communication trenches, and on 
battalion headquarters at Campbell's Post. One shell burst in 
the trench 3 yards from battalion headquarters, wrecked a neigh- 
bouring dug-out, and blew three men to pieces. A little later 
the leading company (" C ") had lost Captain Evans and 2nd- 
Lieutenant Bailey as casualties. 

Soon afterwards it was decided to move battalion headquarters 
forward, and this was done through a heavy barrage. Colonel 


Ripley (who died later) and Lieutenant Barkham (A<ljntant) 
being seriously wounded by the same shell. Major Charrington 
then took over command. 

By four o'clock tiie four companies were together near the 
new battalion headcjuarters. The position then, as regards 
officers, was : — 

" A " Company ... One officer left (2nd-Lieutenant Gotch). 
" B " Company ... No officers left (Sergeant Partridge in 

" C " Company ... No officers left (Sergeant Pullen in 

" D " Company ... One officer left (2nd-Licutenant Bates). 

(Two platoons detached as carrying 


There were now three battalions in the tight, all pretty well 
mixed together and used up. The position about 5 p.m. was 
that we had reached our second objective on the right, but our 
left was bent back, owing to the resistance jnit up by the enemy 
in and around his old front line. Roughly, we held the whole 
of Thicpval e.xQept the north-west corner, and here a strong 
machine-gun nest among the ruins, jirotected by a heavy barrage 
on every side, still held out. With the exhausted troops now in 
the line, no further progress could be made that night. 

The Fusiliers, as the battalion on the left, were the troops 
chiefly concerned, and shortly before dusk Captain Johnson, 
then in command, reported the situation to Colonel Maxwell, of 
the Middlesex Regiment, the senior officer on the spot. The 
latter instructed him to dig in on the present line, hemming in 
the enemy strong points as much as possible. 

Captain Johnson therefore collected all the Fusiliers, North- 
amptonshire and Middlesex Regiments in his part of the line, 
and formed them into front and support lines, with about 30 
yards between each line. The front line consi.sted of groups of 
six men, each forming a double-sentry post at intervals of from 
12 to 15 yards. These men dug towards each other with a view 
to forming a continuous line. The support line was not con- 
tinuous, being composed of groups with a sentry over each. A 
strong point was made round one of the stranded tanks north 
of the Chateau, with a garrison of twenty men and the machine 
guns out of the tank. 

On our right and centre the task of organizing the line was 
allotted to Major Charrington, of the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment, assisted by 2nd-Li^utenant Odgers, of the Middlesex 
Regiment, and 2nd-Lieutenants Bates and Gotch, of his own 

Not until II p.m. was the line finally organized and con- 
solidated. Up to that time there had been continual fighting, 
especially at the block in the trench where our line on the second 


objective ran into the corner of the village still held by the enemy. 
Altogether thirty-six men were sent up to this block, of whom 
twenty-eight became casualties. 

The Germans also made many bombing raids at other points, 
but each time were successfully repulsed. Later a barrage was 
put down on the front line they were holding, and this not only 
stopped further raids, but, judging fi'om their Very lights, 
drove them out of a strong point where they were making them- 
selves a nuisance. So ended the attack for that day, and, as 
the north-west corner of the village must still be taken before 
we could push forward to our final objective — Schwaben Redoubt 
— it was decided to bring in the Bedfordshires. 

The whole area over which the day's fighting had taken place 
was of e.xtraordinary difficulty. The ground had probably been 
more torn up by shells than any other part of France at that 
time, and the enemy had a very strong and intricate system 
of defence, machine guns covering and re-covering every j'ard 
of the way. In addition, there were great numbers of unknown 
and unsuspected dug-outs and trenches sheltering men, machine 
guns, and minenwerfer. Except for the ruins of the Chateau, 
'there were no landmarks, and it was most difficult to locate and 
identify points and positions. The numerous craters, a vast 
number of which held snipers or machine guns, had to be sys- 
tematically " mopped up," and the early loss of nearly all officers 
made organization and control a difficult problem. The fight 
became one of individual initiative and courage, but all ranks 
rose splendidly to the occasion. 

It was now the turn of the 7th Bedfordshire Regiment, who 
had been in reserve all day. A ticklish problem confronted all 
concerned — the withdrawal of the three weary and battered 
battalions who lay before the last stronghold of the Germans 
in the corner of the village, and their relief by the fresh battalion. 
It was about midnight when definite orders reached the Bed- 
fordshire company commanders, and in a pitch-dark night, 
lighted by the bursting of shells, amid terrific artillery fire, 
they worked their men up in little bodies, and at last had them 
all in position. When dawn broke a new and fresh battalion 
faced the Germans, instead of the three spent battalions who 
had borne the brunt of the previous day's attack. " Only a 
well-trained and high-spirited battalion such as the 7th Bedford- 
shire Regiment can accomplish such a feat, and be ready for a 
day's fighting the same morning," was General Maxse's com- 

In the meantime Colonel Price, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, 
had left Brigade headquarters shortly after midnight with plans 
for the attack that was to complete the of clearing the 

On two companies of the Bedfordshire Regiment, under 
Captain (now Major) L. H. Keep, fell the honour of being selected 


for this final attack. They were got into position by 5.45 a.m. 
in the dark, over ground pitted by shell-holes, by Captain 
Johnston and Lieutenant Sulman, of the Fusiliers. Their orders 
were to storm the area at 6 a.m. in one rush, and to clear it with 
the bayonet. 

A stiff resistance was encountered. Steady progress was made 
on the left, in spite of machine guns, snipers, and standing patrols 
in shell-holes. But the right company was held up soon after 
the start, and it was here that 2nd-Lieutenant Adlam, command- 
ing the right-hand platoon, won the Victoria Cross. 

His platoon was held up by heavy rifle and machine-gun fire 
from several strong points. Realizing that time was all im- 
portant to success, he dashed across the open under fire, collect- 
ing his men from shell-holes for a combined rush. He also 
gathered up a number of German bombs, and with them started 
a whirlwind attack on the enemy. He was slightly wounded 
in the leg, but continued throwing from a kneeling position, 
and, in spite of this handicap, outthrew the Germans. Then, 
seizing an opportunity, he led in his platoon, and killed or cap- 
tured all who opposed him. He continued at the head of his 
men that day and the next, until again wounded. 

The assault was completely successful. Captain Keep's little 
force seized and held the last corner of the ruins, and in less 
than twenty-four hours from zero on the 26th the whole of 
Thiepval was ours. In this last operation seventy prisoners 
were taken from dug-outs, and over eighty German dead were 

In the capture of Thiepval the Brigade lost ly officers and 
176 men killed, and 28 officers and 563 men wounded. In addi- 
tion 198 men were reported missing. The 6th Northampton- 
shire Regiment lost their commanding officer. Colonel G. E. 
Ripley ; but the 12th Middlesex Regiment had the heaviest 
casualties in the whole Division, with 10 officers (including 
Majors Scarborough and Whinney) and 60 men killed, and 8 
officers and 233 men wounded. The German losses were much 
higher. Four officers and 606 other ranks surrendered to the 
Division, and their killed and wounded were believed to exceed 

" I am convinced," wrote Sir Ivor Maxse, " that if the com- 
plete story is ever written of what our men accomplished in 
the way of hand-to-hand encounters, from the outbreak of the 
battle until Thiepval and Schwaben were captured, their achiev- 
ments will bear comparison with any similar feat of arms in 
this war." 

The capture of Schwaben Redoubt must be reserved for another 

Mention has already been made of some of the individual 
acts of gallantry that marked the capture of Thiepval. In such 
a day and night of hand-to-hand fighting the full record would 


be almost a nominal roll of the assaulting battalions, and to 
make any selection is an ungrateful task. But the following 
selection from official accounts of deeds for which medals were 
awarded, though incomplete, is of interest. 

The Fusiliers will not forget how their doctor, Captain (now 
Major) J. C. Sale, R.A.M.C., worked for them that day. He was 
awarded the M.C. in the following circumstances : — 

" When, owing to shortage of stretcher-bearers, it became 
difficult to convey the wounded to dug-outs, he repeatedly 
carried them in on his back under very heavy shell, rifle, and 
machine-gun fire. In the course of his work he was twice 
flung down and half stunned by the concussion of heavy shells 
bursting close to him, but he continued his magnificent work 
undeterred, affording the finest possible example to all con- 
cerned, and even remained in Thiepval for some hours after his 
battalion had been relieved." 

Three other M.Cs. were awarded to Fusilier officers, as 
follows : — 

Captain W. H. H. Johnston " led his company with great 
bravery, and later, when his CO. was wounded, took command 
of his battalion. With entire disregard of his own safety, he 
was indefatigable in organizing the defence of the captured 

Lieutenant (now Lieutenant-Colonel) A. E. Sulman : " His 
coolness, resource, and courage were very noticeable through- 
out the battle, especially during the night of abth-ayth, in the 
very difficult operation of organizing, consolidating, and defend- 
ing the hne gained." 

2nd-Lieutenant J. B. Hunt " led his platoon with the greatest 
skill, and organized and carried out successful bombing attacks 
on strong points." 

Of good bombing work done by N.C.Os. and men some account 
has already been given. The Lewis gunners, signallers, and 
others showed no less initiative and gallantry. The following 
were among the recipients of the M.M. : — 

Private G. Norton : " After his leaders were killed he fought 
his Lewis gun with exceptional ability and daring. In spite 
of a worrying fire from a hostile machine gun, he chose his 
positions so skilfully that he accounted for nearly fifty Germans, 
firing from the shoulder with his gun resting on the back of 
another man." 

Lance-Corporal F. W. Neal " frequently signalled messages 
from exposed positions with the greatest courage." 

Lance-Corporal R. Lambe " took charge of a section of 
stretcher-bearers on his own initiative, and showed untiring 
energy and complete fearlessness in attending the wounded, 
often under the heaviest fire." 


Sergeant J. W. Fryer " displayed the greatest coolness and 
energy. When sent back to battalion headquarters to report 
on the situation, he passed boldly through heavy machine-gun 
and artillery fire, and accomplished his message with great 

Private G. Morgan : " The supply of pigeons having run 
short, he hurried back through a heavy barrage, and succeeded 
in bringing up others. He also distinguished him.self during 
the fighting on July ist, when he laid cable under heavy fire, 
and single-handed attacked and captured three Germans." 

In the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment a M.C. was awarded 
to 2nd-Lieutenant F. D. S. Walker. " As Intelhgence Officer 
he displayed the greatest bravery and resource. His services 
as a guide under heavy fire were beyond praise and of the utmost 

Sergeants J. W. Partridge and E. C. Pullen both won the 
D.C.M. for the courage and efficiency with which they led their 
companies when all officers were casualties. 

Among those in the same battalion who received the M.M. 
were : — 

Sergeant W. L. Miles, who "handled his Lewis gun with the 
greatest skill and bravery. It was greatly due to his untiring 
efforts that the front line were enabled to consolidate their 

Sergeant W. T. Scriven, Lance-Corporal F. Shipton, and 
Private J. Walsh, " formed a bombing party which drove the 
enemy out of a communication trench which ran into our front 
line. This post had been preventing consolidation of the line 
in the vicinity for two hours, and it was not until the enemy had 
been driven out that a dangerous gap in the line could be filled. 
These men afterwards formed a block in the trench in this 
advanced position, which they held during the remainder of 
the night." 

Lance-Corporal A. F. Hill " rendered most valuable assist- 
ance in carrying water and ammunition to a forward dump 
through a heavy barrage almost continuously for thirty hours. 
He also helped to clear a German dug-out, and assisted in the 
capture of fifteen prisoners." 

Sergeant G. Bury " rendered the greatest assistance to his 
officer in collecting stragglers, and in getting a complete line 
consolidated. All through the night he visited covering parties 
under heavy fire in front of th-a line, and showed the greatest 
bravery throughout the entire action." 

Private J. F. Norris " worked his Lewis gun with great 
bravery and coolness on our exposed left flank." 

Sergeant J. Evans " as medical orderly displayed exceptional 
bravery under very heavy shell fire. He worked day and 


night attending to the wounded in the most dangerous 

Sergeant T. W. Jones " as a signal sergeant did excellent 
work in maintaining communication by lamp for over six hours 
from the parapet of a trench which was perpetually enfiladed 
by severe artillery fire." 

Company Sergeant-Major A. W. Woolsey was awarded the 
D.C.M. " By his fearless conduct and total disregard of 
personal danger, he rallied and inspired confidence in his men 
in very difficult circumstances, when a large number of officers 
had become casualties." 

Among the awards in the 12th Middlesex Regiment was a 
D.C.M. to Company Sergeant-Major J. Burrows. " When all 
but one of his company officers had become casualties, he 
showed conspicuous power of organization and leadership, and 
by his coolness ajid capable handling of difficult situations 
inspired confidence in all ranks." 

Among those in the same battalion, awarded the M.M. were : — 
Sergeant j. Pilgrim, of whom Colonel Maxwell wrote : " When 
the three officers on battalion headquarters and the Regimental 
Sergeant-Major were killed, he acted as my ' staff,' and was 
invaluable. He is perfectly cool under fire, and I was able to 
send him first to report on one flank and then on another, know- 
ing that 1 could rely on his information." 

Sergeant S. Insley " was in command of the Lewis guns. 
Wounded in the face early in the attack, he nevertheless remained 
with his guns, and by his careful observation placed them in 
such positions that they kept down the fire of snipers from several 
points, and also from a bombing post in the vicinity." 

Lance-Corporals D. Driscoll and H. Cox and Private T. Fair- 
weather " showed great bravery and resource in attacking and 
clearing a German bombing and snipers' post, and afterwards 
in holding it themselves until reinforcements were brought up." 
Sergeant A. H. Ready " assisted in the defence of the left of 
the line, which was in the air, and worked his Lewis gun with 
great steadiness, frequently leaving cover to search for more 

Lance-Corporal H. Perry " showed great and persistent gal- 
lantry in initiating attacks on an enemy strong point on the 
left flank. When a block was being made, he held back constant 
enemy rushes, and as soon as it was blown down he constructed 
another. He continued his efforts throughout the night." 

Private J. Kelly, " finding his party, most of whom were 
men of a recent draft, without officers and N.C.Os., immedi- 
ately took charge and led them with conspicuous ability and 
courage to the objective. There he at once, on his own initia- 
tive, set to work to consolidate, and continued throughout the 
night to inspire his men with his fine example." 


Corporal C. Layton " collected bodies of men who were 
leaderless, and pushed forward. When unable to advance with- 
out a fresh supply of bombs, he went back under heavy fire to 
obtain some. Recrossing the fire-swept zone, he rejoined the 
men he had collected, and continued to command them until 
next morning." 

Eight stretcher-bearers, Lance-Corporal E. J. Cousins and 
Privates H. Crawley, J. Hobbs, D. T. Delaney, W. F. Mansell, 
G. R. A'Court, H. W. Rawlings, and S. A. Clary, also received 
the M.M. " Owing to the nature of the ground, stretchers were 
in many cases impossible, and most of the carrying was done 
by these gallant men on their backs." 

A D.C.M. also went to Private A. J. Knight, of the North- 
amptonshire Regiment, attached to the 54th Machine Gun Com- 
pany. " When the whole of his gun team had become casualties, 
he, with one other man whom he got hold of to help, succeeded 
in keeping his gun in action under very heavy shell fire through- 
out the night of 26th-2 7th. Although isolated from his own 
infantry, he held his position against all attacks until found 
and relieved next morning." 

Another machine gunner, Sergeant J. Templeton, was awarded 
the M.M. " His officer having become a casualty, he commanded 
his section most ably. After placing his guns in position in the 
strong points for which they were detailed, he took charge of 
a platoon of infantry whose officer had been killed, and arranged 
the consolidation of the position won." 

Corporal A. Butterfield, of the Middlesex Regiment, attached 
to the 54th Trench Mortar Battery, also won the M.M. " He 
was in charge of a Stokes gun, which he handled with marked 
ability and complete disregard of danger under heavy shell 

Awards to the Bedfordshire Regiment will be more con- 
veniently dealt with in the next chapter, when the battalion's 
share in the next stage of the proceedings, the capture of 
Schwaben Redoubt, is described. 

One incident comes to mind in which Bedfordshire men 
played a part while the battalion was awaiting final orders to 
take the Redoubt. 

Privates Baker and Catling worked round behind a large 
German dug-out with many entrances, in advance of an outpost 
hne. Finding an unguarded entrance, they went down, and 
after a sharp fight in the dark compelled the surrender of thirty- 
two fully-armed Germans. They urged them up the stairs 
into the open. There the Germans, surprised and disgusted 
to find that they had surrendered to two men, took up their 
arms again and resumed the fight. After that one thing led to 
another, and the result was that of the prisoners, only eighteen 
reached the cage alive. 


Lieutenant-General C. W. Jacobs, as commander of the Second 
Corps, sent the following message while the Brigade was still 
struggling for the last corner of the battered ruins : — 

" Thiepval has withstood all attacks upon it for exactly two 
years, and it is a great honour to your Division to have cap- 
tured the whole of this strongly-fortified village at the first 
attempt. Hearty congratulations to you all." 

Sir Douglas Haig himself called on Sir Ivor Maxse on Septem- 
ber 27th to congratulate the Division on its success. 


Chapter VII 


A LTHOUGH the heap of ruins and tangle of chalky trenches 
■**• that had once been Thicpval was now ours, the position 
could not be regarded as won, and it was very unlikely that it 
could be held until the final objective, Schwaben Redoubt, was 

This was the key to the whole position, overlooking the site 
of the village from the higher ground some 600 or 700 yards 
farther north. 

The Royal Fusiliers, Northamptonshire and Middlesex Regi- 
ments were out of it for the present, their losses in officers having 
been so heavy that, although nominally in Divisional reserve, 
ready for an emergency, they could not be used for an organized 
attack. If the Brigade were to have the honour of helping to 
complete the task it had so well begun, it was clearly the Bed- 
fordshire Regiment's job. 

The plan was to attack with the 53rd Brigade on the right, 
and the 54th Brigade on the left. The i/5th West Yorkshire 
Regiment, of the 49th Division, was placed at the disposal of 
the 54th Brigade for this operation. The two fresh companies 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment were to be deployed for the assault, 
and of the two companies that had already been in action with 
Captain Keep, one was to be in close support of the assaulting 
companies, and the other was to " mop-up " dug-outs. Three 
companies of the West Yorkshire Regiment were to support 
the Bedfordshire Regiment, leaving the fourth company at the 
disposal of Colonel Price as his battalion reserve. 

Zero hour was i p.m. on September 28th, and the forming up 
by midday was a difficult operation, as the jumping-off trenches, 
on the north of the village, were in full view of the enemy, and 
the light was very good. The ground had been .so battered 
about, and every landmark so reduced to mud and ruin, that 
map references did not count, and all that was clear was our 
front trench and some uncut wire on the left. The Redoubt 
was nothing but a heap of mud and shell-holes on the crest. 

About two hours before zero a German map, captured the 
previous day in Thiepval, reached Brigade headquarters. This 
showed the positions of several German machine guns. This 
information was at once sent to the artillery and the assaulting 
battalion, and reached them just in time to be of service. 

However, the men were got into position, and as soon as our 
barrage came down the front wave of the Bedfordshire Regiment 
was off. The barrage appeared very effective, and little fire 



was met with until the Hfts occurred. The German hnes were 
a hell of bursting shells, and it seemed impossible that men 
could live there and fight. Keeping closely behind our barrage 
— though how to distinguish it from the stuff the German guns 
were putting over was a puzzle — our waves made good progress 
until a communication trench known as Market Trench, run- 
ning from the original German front line to the Redoubt, was 
reached. This was a little less than half-way to the objective. 
Here the right platoon of the Bedfordshire Regiment came under 
heavy machine-gun fire, and was completely knocked out. 

The rest of the Bedfordshire waves also suffered from machine- 
gun fire, but succeeded in rushing a number of strong points, 
and getting farther forward, till they fronted the west side of 
the Redoubt at a distance of about 250 yards. A machine gun 
that was giving them much trouble on their left was knocked 
out by artillery, in response to an urgent telephone message. 

The reader must remember that our attack was being pushed 
along the original German front line, for we were fighting north- 
ward along trenches facing west, just as the Fusiliers had to 
do in the attack on Thiepval. The Redoubt was not immedi- 
ately to our front — that is to say, we were attacking down a 
football field in which the goal, instead of being in the centre 
of the line at the far end, was actually rather towards the right- 
hand corner. 

On the line now reached our front was necessarily rather 
extended, and the West Yorkshire Regiment was put in with 
orders to push towards the Redoubt, and so fill the gap that was 
api)earing between the Bedfordshire Regiment and the 53rd 
Brigade on their right. The latter Brigade was now tackling 
the sc:)uthern part of the Redoubt. 

By 1.30 p.m. the Bedfordshire Regiment had seized a number 
of points facing the north-west corner of the Redoubt, and the 
attackers, led by Sergeant Shepherd, reached a spot on the crest 
of the hill from which they could see Germans streaming north- 
wards along trenches towards St. Pierre Divion. Our artillery 
had good observation of this area, and shelled the retreating 
Germans very effectively. By 2 p.m. Captain L. H. Keep sent 
back a message by visual that he had reached the final objective. 

But it was one thing to be on the objective, and quite another 
to hold it, and the rest of the day was spent in bombing attacks 
and hand-to-hand fighting, especially on the right, where our 
line touched the Redoubt. 

Much of this bombing was organized by the late Captain 
D. S. H. Keep, and some good work was done under his direction. 

Sergeant A. Wyatt was awarded the D.C.M. in this connec- 
tion. " Volunteering to carry out a bombing raid [says the 
official account], he pushed his way along two enemy trenches 
in face of heavy opposition, and established blocks in both. 
He then went forward with two men and cleared the trench, 


bringing back thirty-four prisoners from the dug-outs. Later, 
after his officer had become a casualty, he organized the defence 
of the position, and beat off repeated bombing attacks." 

Private G. Goldhawk was also awarded the D.C.M. " He 
volunteered as observer during a bombing attack, and ran 
along the parapet directing the throws of the bombers. When 
the attack was held up by a machine gun, with complete dis- 
regard of his own safety, he rushed the gun and put the whole 
team out of action with bombs." 

Meanwhile the 49th Division, on the west, behind our old 
front line, had sent in a small party from the 146th Brigade, 
who seized Pope's Nose (where the old German front line crosses 
the Thiepval road), and actually wandered right across our 
front, with occasional bombing diversions on the way, till they 
reported to Captain Keep, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, at 
the north-west corner of the Redoubt, and submitted an applica- 
tion for a few more Germans to kill. 

When night fell the position was rather obscure. The 53rd 
Brigade on our right were in the sui)port line and dug-outs of 
the south-west corner of the Redoubt, and the Bedfordshire 
Regiment, with the West Yorkshire Regiment, who had rein- 
forced them, held the more westerly trenches. But everything 
was so confused that neither Brigade knew exactly what the 
other was doing on the western face of the stronghold, and night 
passed in bombing attacks, by which the Germans sought to 
break what had become our outpost line. 

The (juestion of consolidation had to be considered. Only 
two officers were now left. Major L. H. Keep and his brother, 
Captain D. S. H. Keep. With two Company Sergeant-Majors 
who survived, C. Hall and R. M. Brand, they chose a Hne a 
little to the rear of the line they had gained, and, with the 
assistance of some sappers who had come up under Lieutenant 
Knight, this line was made good and strong posts formed. 

Both the Company Sergeant-Majors mentioned above received 
the D.C.M. I hope there are still many hving who remember 
how Company Sergeant-Major C. Hall's loud voice, heard even 
above the din of shells and bombs and the clatter of machine 
guns and rifles, rallied the men at a critical moment. Never 
was a powerful voice so well used. His action was thus officially 
described : — 

" This warrant officer rallied the supporting troops who were 
missing their direction, and by his stentorian voice directed 
them on to their objective. Later he organized bombing and 
working parties, and was of the greatest assistance to his com- 
pany commander in the work of consolidating the position 
gained. Just before the relief of the battalion he took com- 
mand of the company, all officers having become casualties, 
and carried out the relief with the greatest skill." 


Company Sergeant-Major R. M. Brand also commanded his 
company on that day, and received the D.C.M. " for c6nspicuous 
courage, initiative, and powers of leadership " [to quote again 
from official sources]. " He took command of his company 
when all his officers had become casualties, and very ably 
carried out the consolidation of the position gained." 

Mention has already been made of 2nd-Lieutenant Adlam, 
who was awarded the V.C. at Thiepval. He did equally good 
work in the second fight, the account of the action for which 
he received the decoration, after describing his work in Thiepval, 
already referred to, adding : — 

" He again displayed the highest courage in the attack on 
Schwaben Redoubt. Though again wounded, this time in the 
right arm, so that he could no longer throw bombs himself, he 
continued to lead his men with utter contempt of danger till 
he was ordered to the rear. There is no doubt that this officer, 
not only by his personal bravery and magnificent example, 
but also by his prompt and skilful handling of the tactical 
situation, was largely responsible for the success of the very 
important minor operation on the morning of the 27th, and 
materially assisted in the capture of Schwaben Redoubt." 

A D.C.M. also went to Lance-Corporal A. W. Harris. " Hear- 
ing reinforcements were urgently required, he proceeded on 
his own initiative to the front line with his Lewis gun, and from 
an exposed position under heavy fire repulsed repeated counter- 
attacks. Later he rallied a party of another regiment who 
were being driven out of a post, and succeeded in holding the 
post against successive attacks." 

On the 29th the 55th Brigade, which had hitherto been in 
reserve, took over the task which had been so well begun, and 
the Bedfordshires, badly battered, but with their tails well up, 
were relieved by the 7th West Kents. 

The Bedfordshires had now been fighting since they were 
brought into the line at midnight 26th-2 7th at a critical moment. 

In their first task, the assault of the last corner of Thiepval, 
they had lost i officer and 43 other ranks killed, and 4 officers 
and 50 other ranks wounded. Since then they had lost 4 
officers and 15 other ranks killed in front of Schwaben Redoubt, 
and 6 officers and 97 other ranks wounded. Clearly they must 
be withdrawn for reinforcements. 

The taking of the last corner of Thiepval and the defences 
of Schwaben Redoubt by the Bedfordshire Regiment were 
essentially " soldiers' battles " — as indeed were so many other 
actions of a war which made an exceptional call on individual 
courage a.nd initiative — and all did so well, and so many were 
selected for special awards, it has been difficult to make a selec- 
tion, but the foregoing must serve. 

From the Field Ambulance point of view, the Thiepval and 
Schwaben Redoubt operations were the hottest of the whole 

Somme fighting, and the clearing of casualties was carried out 
with the greatest difficulty, alternative routes of evacuation 
often having to be found to avoid the intense and searching 
shell fire. 

There for the first time a derelict tank was used as a shelter. 
However, the attention it received from German gunners made 
it necessary to discontinue its use as a dressing-post in rather 
quick time, and in future stretcher-bearers generally gave tanks 
a wide berth. 

A story told by a stretcher-bearer well illustrates the ruin 
and desolation of this area. One of our bearer posts was on 
the site of Thiepval Chateau (which was frequently mentioned 
in the previous chapter). An officer came up and asked a bearer 
where the Chateau was. " Sorry, sir, you're standing on it," 
was the reply. 

After the Thiepval and Schwaben Redoubt operations, the 
Brigade had about three weeks out of the line, chiefly in the 
RibeaUcourt area, where training was carried on. On Octo- 
ber nth Sir Douglas Haig paid an informal visit, and saw the 
battalions at work. A move was afterwards made to Albert, 
and by October 23rd the Brigade was again in the line. 

The battalions now found themselves in Regina Trench, near 
Courcelette, about three miles north-west of Thiepval, with the 
intention of taking part in an attack on Petit Miraumont, 
which lay about two miles due north. 

" For this attack," writes a Fusilier officer, " the as.saulting 
battalions of^ the Brigade were to have been the Fusiliers and 
the Bedfordshire Regiment. 

" The weather was awful, and the mud beyond words. For- 
tunately, the attack did not come ofif. If it had it must have 
been a colossal failure. The first objective was, 1 believe, 
1,700 yards away, and in that mud, and after going that dis- 
tance, the men would have been dead-beat. 

" The Brigade was to go on to the Ancre, cross the river, 
which was in flood and about 300 yards wide, and hold the cross- 
ings for the 53rd Brigade to go through. It was seriously sug- 
gested that trees might be felled across the Ancre, and the men 
might cross on them. The only implements for felling trees 
were bayonets, entrenching tools, and jack-knives ! 

" We went into the line three or four times with the idea of 
attacking at dawn on the second ntorning, but each time it 
was postponed two or three or four days, and we came out 
again to Albert. It rained nearly every day ; the trenches had 
no duck-boards, and were knee-deep in mud. There was one 
small dug-out which served as two company headquarters, and 
the trench was continuously enfiladed by shell fire from Loupart 
Wood. The parapet was always falling in. 

" Each time we went in for the attack the men were served 
out with a haversack ration of potted-meat sandwiches and a 


hard-boiled egg. Major Meyricke, on the telephone from 
battalion headquarters, used to inform the company commanders 
that the attack had been postponed again by the words, ' You 
may eat your sandwiches ! '--for if the attack was off, they 
could eat them whenever they liked, if they had not already 
done so. 

" The men were soaked to the skin with liquid mud for days 
on end, and after ration-carrying fatigues were dead-beat. It 
was a long carry, and the mud was appaUing. On relief the 
men sometimes did not get back to Albert till 6 a.m., and had 
no opportunity of getting properly dry before they went in the 
line again. The sick rate in the battalions at this time was the 
worst I have ever known. One morning each battalion in the 
Brigade had over 150 sick, and one had nearly 250. Eventually 
the attack was postponed till the New Year, and we were relieved 
by the Canadians." 

It was on November 17th that the Brigade was relieved in 
the line by the nth Canadian Brigade, Brigade headquarters 
moving to billets in Albert, and all battalions to huts south- 
west of Ovilliers. 

The return to the same area in the spring of the following 
year, and the operations in which Petit Miraumont was at last 
taken, are dealt with in the next chapter. 

The uncomfortable nature of life in Regina Trench is well 
illustrated by the olificial accounts of actions for which Military 
Medals were awarded. I make the following extracts : — 

Corporal R. W. Dixon (Fusiliers) : " On one occasion a shell 
buried two of his platoon, and his prompt action and courage 
in an exposed position under heavy bombardment resulted in 
the extrication of both." 

Private G. E. Gough (Bedfordshire Regiment) : " During ex- 
tremely heavy shelling of Regina Trench he remained on duty 
as signaller in an exposed pait of the trench without cover of 
any kind. Communication with battalion headquarters was 
repeatedly broken, but on every occasion he went out through 
the barrage and repaired the wire." 

Corporal B. Mulrien (Bedfordshire Regiment) : " Organized 
a party and dug out four men who had been buried in the trench 
by a shell. The party was heavily shelled all the time." 

Private A. Thompson (Bedfordshire Regiment) : " As stretcher- 
bearer he showed great devotion to duty, attending to cases 
under very dangerous and trying circumstances. Having 
attended to all casualties in his company, he volunteered to 
go over the open country to another company to assist them, 
and it was only by direct order of his officer that he did not go." 

Corporal W. Dean (Bedfordshire Regiment) : " When not on 
duty came out of his dug-out during an intense bombardment, 
and walked from sentry-post to sentry-post, cheering up the 
men. He was severely wounded, having an arm practically 


blown off, but after being attended to by a stretcher-bearer 
continued to encourage the men until sent back to the dressing- 
station by his officer." 

Some good patrol work by the 6th Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment attracted notice during this period. 2nd-Lieutenant P. H. 
Higham of that battalion was awarded the M.C. in the following 
circumstances': — 

" During the night of November 7th, 1916, accompanied by 
one lance-corporal and one man, he carried out a difficult and 
dangerous reconnaissance with the greatest bravery and effi- 
ciency. After crossing 900 yards of No Man's Land he dis- 
covered an enemy strong point. In spite of this he entered the 
trench, which he reconnoitred for a distance of 409 yards. The 
information which he brought back was of great value in sub- 
sequent operations. During the attack on Thiepval this officer 
went forward with one lance-corporal and two men to recon- 
noitre the position for a dump. On arriving there a dug-out 
containing twenty Germans was found. He shot one, captured 
the remainder, and formed his dump in their dug-out." 

2nd-Lieutenants A. C. Bates and D. I. Gotch, who had done 
good work at Thiepval, won the M.C. during their tour of duty 
in Regina Trench. Both were buried several times by shells 
between October 25th and 29th, but carried on with cheerful- 
ness and courage, which set a fine example to all ranks. 

The M.M. was awarded to Sergeant B. Aldham, of the same 
battalion. " He was in charge of a patrol sent out to recon- 
noitre an enemy strong point, and brought back valuable in- 
formation. Before proceeding on his patrol he made a pre- 
liminary reconnaissance by himself on his own initiative. On 
returning he volunteered to take a party out to capture the 
strong point." 

Sergeant J. Corstorphine and Privates G. Rivett and D. Pen- 
fold, of the 54th Machine Gun Company, were also awarded the 
M.M. during this period for digging out buried comrades under 

Chapter VIII 


ITn'ELCOME days of rest — almost " peace-time soldiering/' as 
"• we amateurs interpreted the phrase — came to the Brigade 
at the end of 191 6 and in the early days of 1917. 

At the end of November the Brigade marched down to the 
St. Kiquicr area, netir Abbeville, and training was carried on 
throughout December. On December 14th a move was made 
to the Canchy area, a few miles farther west, and there Christ- 
mas and New Year's Day were spent. In between training 
there was plenty of recreation, boxing competitions and foot- 
ball matches being got up ; and a Brigade pierrot troop, fore- 
runner of the " Vin Blongs," so well known at a later date, 
was organized to visit Canchy, Marcheville, and Doinvaast, where 
the units were billeted. A Brigade cross-country run was 
lirought off on January 6th, and won by Sergeant Bradbury, 
of the Northamptonshire Regiment. 

The Brigade was specially selected to carry out a demon- 
stration attack on the lines of the Somme offensive of July ist, 
19 1 6, on the St. Riquier training area. This took place on 
December 27th, before the Army Commander and representa- 
tives from all Divisions in the Fifth Army, and a good show was 
put up. 

On January 9th a happy association of over two years' stand- 
ing was broken up, and Sir Ivor INIaxse, who trained and brought 
the Division over to France, coming over to Brigade head- 
(juarters to say good-bye on his appointment to command the 
1 8th Corps. There was no formal parade, but each battalion 
was represented by the officers who had the longest service with 
the Brigade and Division. At the same time Sir Ivor presented 
a number of decorations. 

On January nth the Brigade began its march to the forward 
area, and after halting at Domquer, Fienvillers, and Rubempre, 
covered the rest of the journey by 'bus. On the 17th we were 
holding the line south-east of Grandcourt, only about three 
miles from Thiepval, that place of proud memories for the 

This was, it will be remembered, the very sector held by the 
Brigade in October, 19 16, and Regina and Desire Trenches, 
with Miraumont in front, were familiar spots. 

Ten days were spent in the line, and though nothing of im- 
portance occurred, they were days and nights to remember, 
for there was a continual hard frost, and one night the tempera- 



ture fell below zero. Apart from discomfort, this introduced 
a new problem into trench warfare, ff a trench is deep enough 
to afford cover, the presence even of several feet of water does 
not affect its safety. But if that water freezes hard and there 
are only about eighteen inches of cover between the surface of 
the ice and the top of the parapet, the protection afforded is 
extremely slight. 

This was the sort of thing that happened in certain parts of 
the line. The Brigade was ever composed of cheerful philoso- 
phers, and the discovery that tin hats could be used for the 
Scottish game of curling in the frozen trenches did much to 
relieve the monotony. " C " Company of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment was a very good team, recalls an officer who is accus- 
tomed to take a sporting view of life, and was asked how the 
war stood at that date. But the Ciermans were poor sportsmen, 
They would watch the game till they got bored, and then — ■ 
but hang it all, boredom is no excuse ! — they would stop further 
sport with a few whizzbangs. It will take them a long time to 
live down that bad sportsmanship, which was fiercely resented 
by officers and men, who were prepared to accept the ordinary 
business of " straffing " as all a part of the day's work. 

Reliefs were carried out with some difficulty. Duck-boards, 
which one used to look upon as the only causeway through 
engulfing seas of mud, now became skating rinks, and climbing 
the greasy pole is a drawing-room game compared with single- 
filing down a narrow icy wooden track, near an enemy ready to 
shoot at sound. Only by wrapping their boots in sandbags 
could the men keep their feet. 

After this short tour in the trenches, the Brigade went back 
to the St. Martinsart area, indulging in working parties and 
in rehearsals of the forthcoming attack. 

On February gth they went into the line again for two days, 
and had a rather lively time, the artillery of both sides being 
active. On the night of the loth " A " Company of the Fusiliers 
(holding the right sector from the west of Miraumont Road to 
Sixteen Road) rushed and captured a German strong point. 
The Germans then concentrated machine-gun and trench- 
mortar fire on the little garrison. Both the officers and nearly 
all the N.C.Os. became casualties, and in a strong counter- 
attack the enemy regained the position. Lieutenant Sampson 
was killed in this affair. 

The Brigade had another three days out of the line for re- 
hearsals, and on the night of February 1 5th- 1 6th took over 
the battle front for the operations of the 17th. These were 
part of a big attack on both banks of the Ancre, to seize the high 
ground giving observation over the upper Ancre Valley. 

We were on the south of the Ancre, below Miraumont, and 
had to attack from in front of Desire Trench due north towards 
South Miraumont Trench, first across Grandcourt Trench, and 


then across the deep sunken road known as Boom Ravine, 
which, so far as this Brigade is concerned, gives its name to 
the action. 

Tlie assaulting battaUons were the Northamptonshires (right) 
and FusiHers (left). The Middlesex Regiment was in support, 
and the Bedfordshire Regiment in reserve. The Suffolk Regi- 
ment (53rd Brigade) were on our loft, and the 2nd Division 
on our right. 

Just why the weather had such frequent pro-German moods 
during the war is a question to be discussed in a more scientific 
book than this. But the fact remains that the' hard frost, 
which would have given us almost ideal ground to attack over, 
broke on tlie niglit of the i6th, and most of our troubles were 
due to the ajipalling mud which resulted from the untimely 

Our forming-up place was just in front of a depression known 
as the Gully, and from the Gully a sunken road ran into Boom 
Ravine. The junction of this sunken road with the Gully 
was known as " Oxford t^ircus," and the familiar name may 
enable me to make the general lie of the land clear to those 
who know their London. 

Assuming that, instead of being in " Oxford Circus " facing 
ISfiraumont (a most unhealthy spot in the darkness of the early 
hours of February 17th), you had the far better luck to be in 
the real Oxford Circus in London, facing towards Queen's Hall, 
our forming-up lines would lie to your right and left along 
Oxford Street. Going towards Queen's Hall and the Langham 
Hotel, you would first cross the enemy's wire and Grandcourt 
Trench, and Boom Ravine would be represented by streets 
running right and left near the church. Beyond, roughly half- 
right, would be South Miraumont. Now fill Oxford Circus, 
Oxford Street, and every step that you have to take if you are 
going to walk to the church, with shell-holes and churned-up 
ground, knee deep in mud, and call down from heaven deadly 
hail of shrapnel and high explosive, with rifle and machine-gun 
fire to sweep every yard of your journey, and you have a fair 
idea of the conditions. 

On the night of the i6th the forming-up lines were taped 
and our wire cut, in spite of the darkness and some pretty 
heavy shelling by the enemy. The tapes were from 100 to 
200 yards in front of the Gully. 

Orders were for all troops to be in position by 4.45 a.m. on 
the 17th. There were two ways up to the forming-up place, 
one along the duck-boards (as one might go up Regent Street 
to Oxford Circus) and one up Cornwall Trench, the only com- 
munication trench. Both became very congested, especially 
the trench, and the scene in the Gully. was like a London crowd 
coming out of a theatre. 


Just before 4.30 a.m. the enemy sent up yellow and green 
lights, and a heavy barrage opened at once on the (iully and the 
ground immediately to the north. It was discovered afterwards 
from captured German officers that they had learned full details 
of the proposed attack, and knew the approximate hour at 
which it was to be launched. 

Both the assaulting battalions suffered heavily in this bom- 
bardment, especially the Fusiliers. Crowded together in the 
Gully and " Oxford Circus," the men had no shelter. It was 
in the pitchy dark hours before dawn, lain was falling, the 
ground was deep in slippery mud, and there were no trenches 
to guide to the forming-up line. One platoon of the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment was almost entirely wiped out as it was led 
to the forming-up place ; and of the total Fusilier casualties 
in the whole of the operation, one-half were suffered in the 
Gully and thereabouts. That the battalions were formed up 
at all, in this dark mouth of hell, was due very largely to their 
gallant and skilful handling by officers and N.C.Os., and to 
the courage and discipline of the men themselves, many of 
whom lay in the mud for hours under heavy shell fire, awaiting 
the order to go over the top. That, after the terrible ordeal 
before dawn, they fought their way forward so well as to snatch 
a very large measure of success out of what might so nearly 
have been utter disaster speaks volumes for their doggedness 
and dash. 

Some splendid work was done by 2nd-Lieutenants Boulton 
and Higham and Company Sergeant-Major Cuthbert, of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, in getting their men into position. 
Of the officers of two Fusilier companies in the front line (one 
on each side of the road leading up to the Ravine), only two — 
Captain Morton of " A," and Captain CoUis Sandes of " B " — • 
were unwounded at zero hour. 

At 5.45 a.m. our barrage opened, and the assaulting battalions 
went forward close up to it towards the first objective. Before 
he had gone 200 yards. Captain Collis Sandes had a bullet through 
the neck, and Captain Morton had half his foot taken off by a 
shell a little farther on. So in the darkness and drizzling rain, 
over the slippery ground all cut up by constant bombardment, 
through shell fire and the thresh of machine-gun fire and sniping, 
the waves went on. The Trench Mortar Battery did good work, 
getting forward with the assaulting line, though heavily burdened 
with guns and ammunition, and losing heavily. The section 
of the 54th Machine Gun Company attached to the assaulting 
battalions also went forward well. As soon as our barrage 
opened, the enemy sent up showers of spray lights, and some 
green, and in answer to this appeal his guns put down a barrage 
on our front. It was, however, very short-lived, and it .seemed 
that our counter-battery work was very good. 


On arriving before Grandcourt Trench it was found that 
much of the wire was still uncut, and the delay in finding the 
gaps gave the enemy time to get away and take up fresh posi- 
tions beyond the trench and on both sides of Boom Ravine. 
The movement along the front of the wire to find gaps also 
led to some loss of direction and mixing up of companies. It 
must be remembered that it was still dark. Not till 6.5 a.m. 
was there light enough to see more than a few yards. On the 
whole, the wire was better cut in front of the Fusiliers than in 
front of the Northamptonshire Regiment. In the case of the 
latter, the left and centre companies were held up by rifle and 
machine-gun fire at this point so long as to loose the barrage. 

Meanwhile the Fusiliers had been able to get forward, and 
Boom Ftavine was reached at last. Every officer was now a 
casualty, and the four companies were badly mixed up ; but 
Company Sergeant-Major Fitterer, of " B " Company, although 
he had a bullet through the thigh, reorganized the men and 
led them forward. He was well assisted in this by Sergeants 
Choate (" A " Company), Berry (" C " Company), and Hazell 
(" D " Company). 

At the Ravine the Fusiliers took over 100 prisoners, and these 
were at once pressed into service by Major J. C. Sale, D.S.O., 
then regimental medical oflicer, as stretcher-bearers. 

The right company of the Northamptonshire Regiment was 
also able to get forward from Grandcourt Trench with the 
barrage, according to time-table, but the left and centre com- 
panies were delayed, thus leaving a gap between the left of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment and the right of the Fusiliers. 

The Fusiliers, so splendidly rallied and led by Company Ser- 
geant-Major Fitterer, and the right company of the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment, advanced from the Ravine soon after 
6.30 a.m., leaving men of the Middlesex Regiment, who had 
been sent over as " moppers-up," to carry out their good work 
among the dug-outs. But there had been so much delay, 
owing to the mixing up of companies, the heavy casualties 
among officers, and the great difficulty of crossing this deep 
sunken road, that the barrage was lost. Accordingly, when 
they arrived before South Miraumont Trench, they were not 
only held up by uncut wire, but saw their barrage far ahead 
and the (Germans lining the trench, and could do nothing but 
drop into shell-holes. A few of the Northamptonshire Regiment, 
under Lieutenant T. R. Price, D.S.O., the adjutant, who had 
now come up, and 2nd-Lieutenant Higham, M.C., did actually 
succeed in entering the trench, but there could be no hope of 
staying there, with every other part of our line held up. 

Soon after this, about 8.30 a.m., a strong German counter- 
attack was delivered from Petit Miraumont. From captured 
German orders and statements by prisoners, it appears that 
these were specially trained counter-attack troops, brought up 


as soon as news of our intended attack reached them the pre- 
vious night. They consisted largely of marksmen and machine 
gunners. Their fire was extremely accurate, while we were in 
poor plight, most of our rifles and Lewis guns t)eing clogged, 
owing to the lying in mud in the dark before the attack, and the 
bad ground that had to be covered in tlie advance. 

Whatever the exact cause, the line, seeing no appre- 
ciable effect produced by their fire on the advancing Germans, 
began to fall back. Lieutenant Price now handled the North- 
amptonshire Regiment with the greatest skill and gallantry. 
He moved to and fro along the line under heav-y (ire, steadying 
the retirement, and then, seeing that our right was in the air, 
swung the little body of survivors to form a defensive flank on 
the West Miraumont Road. Lieutenant-Colonel R. J. F. Mcy- 
ricks, of the nth Fusiliers, who had taken over command of 
the Northamptonshire Regiment as recently as February 3rd, 
was killed while going forward from the Ravine with Lieutenant 

In the meantime Lieutenant-Colonel C. C. Carr, D.S.O. 
commanding the Fusiliers, and Captain G. F. J. Cumberlege, 
D.S.O. , his adjutant, had come up and got hold of the Fu.siliers, 
together with remnants of other battalions from the Brigade 
on our left, and steadied that part of the line. Later this left 
fiank was taken over by Lieutenant C. F. Chute, Brigade Sig- 
nalling Officer, and Lieutenant Pearcy, Fusiliers Signalling 

The line was now held until the afternoon, when, reinforced 
by two companies of the Middlesex Regiment, all that was left 
of the two assaulting battalions again moved forward almost to 
the crest of the spur overlooking South Miraumont Trench, and 
occupied a series of rifle and machine-gun posts. This line was 
handed over to the 8th East Surrey Regiment (55th Brigade) 
on the evening of the i8th. 

Our casualties were heavy, the Brigade losing in all 14 officers 
killed, 25 wounded, and 2 missing. Of other ranks, 115 were 
killed, 423 wounded, and 161 missing. 

Mention has already been made of the employment of German 
prisoners as stretcher-bearers. By keeping them constantly 
at work, all the Brigade casualties were evacuated within a few 
hours, though it was a very long carry over heavy ground. 
The difficulties that the medical service had to grapple with 
that day were indeed very great. Stretcher cases were carried 
2,400 yards from regimental aid-posts in Boom Ravine to tram- 
head at Hessian Trench, then pushed along the tram-line 2,300 
yards to the advanced dressing-station. The carry was uphill 
all the way, under fire, and over ground all churned up by shells 
and knee-deep in mud. In the opinion of the medical officers 
of the Brigade it was the heaviest work the bearers have ever 
had to perform. 


Who Commanded the 7th (S.) Batt. Bedtordshire Regiment from January, 1918 

to May, 1918 ; and 2nd Batt. Bedfordshire Regiment from May, 1918, 

to March, 1919. 

To face page 80. 

In this attack all behaved with such courage in exceptionally 
trying circumstances that to attempt any complete record of 
individual gallantry would be to give a nominal roll of those 
who went over in the darkness and mud of that grim February 
dawn. In dealing with some outstanding cases one must take 
the risk of omitting many equally deserving of mention. 

It will be remembered that the Middlesex Regiment, as sup- 
porting battalion, pushed two companies into the front line at 
a critical moment when we were getting some pretty bad hammer- 
ing on the spur before South Miraumont Trench. 2nd-Lieu- 
tenant W. B. Godwin, of the Middlesex Regiment, did gallant 
work at this point. With a few men he got about 200 yards 
to the north-east of our objective, owing to a fog that had come 
down. The enemy counter-attacked, and, though greatly out- 
numbered, 2nd-Lieutenant Godwin and his men stood their 
ground and fought till all but one were killed. This fine stand 
was effective in breaking up a threatening counter-attack. 
Unhappily, the gallant officer himself was killed. Lieutenant 
V. D. Corbett was another Middlesex officer who did good work 
in fixing and consolidating our final line of defence under heavy 
rifle and shell fire. Acting Company Sergeant-Major Kerr of 
the same battalion will also be remembered. All the officers 
of his company having become casualties, he reorganized the 
company, and directed the work of clearing dug-outs in the 
Ravine until killed. 

Mention has already been made of Lieutenant C. F. Chute, 
R.E., Brigade Signal Officer. He had gone forward to the first 
objective to establish telephone communication with a visual 
station. While doing this he saw that the enemy counter- 
attack on our right was driving back the line in some confusion, 
owing to the loss of nearly all the officers. He at once went 
forward, ralUed the men under heavy fire, checked the with- 
drawal, and then got into communication with Brigade head- 
quarters, giving such a timely and accurate report that steps 
could be taken which resulted in the recapture of most important 
high ground. 

The signalhng officer of the Fusiliers, 2nd-Lieutenant G. S. 
Pearcy. did equally gallant work. During the counter-attack 
he rallied the men of his battalion, when all company officers 
were casualties, and by his fine example under fire did much to 
restore the situation. For a great part of the time he took 
command of the remnants of his battalion in the front line. 

While writing of the signals service one must say a word for 
the good work done by the men. Pioneer Walter Jones, R.E., 
attached to Brigade headquarters, worked without rest for forty- 
eight hours under constant shell fire, laying lines up to our 
most forward troops and repairing breaks. The runners also 
did excellent work, delivering messages under heavy fire. Pri- 
vates F. C. Ross (Fusiliers), A. H. Philby (Bedfordshires), and 



R. A. Young (Middlesex Regiment), all attached to Brigade 
headquarters, attracted attention for devotion to duty. Private 
S. G. Hazell, of the Fusiliers, also did fine work as a runner, 
invariably carrying ammunition or Lewis gun drums forward on 
his own initiative when taking a message, and very greatly 
helping officers by his accurate observations and repejrts. Pri- 
vates E. C. Bailey, H. A. Ashby, and T. H. ]3ryan, of the North- 
amptonshire Regiment, did equally good work in keeping up 
communication in their battalion. 

Turning to the officers of the Fusiliers, the work of Captain 
G. F. J. Cumberlege, then adjutant of the battalion, has 
already been mentioned, and his action in rallying men of his 
own and other battalions undoubtedly restored order and 
enabled us to hold on to an important ridge at a very critical 
moment. Nor would anyone present regard this record as com- 
plete without a word about the work of Captain G. B. Morton, 
whose courage and coolness did so much to form up his company 
and get it forward, until he was seriously wounded, and Captain 
(now Major) J. C. Sale, medical officer of the battalion, whose 
care for the wounded under heavy fire was an inspiration to 
all ranks. Lieutenant Bernard Ashmole, in temporary command 
of his company, was wounded in the knee at an early stage, 
but hobbled forward almost to the first objective till he collapsed 
with a second wound. 

The fine work of Company Sergeant-Major P. J. Fitterer has 
already been dealt with. He was ably assisted by a number of 
N.C.Os. of the battalion. There was Lance-Corporal G. Morgan, 
who volunteered to take an important message when three 
runners had already been killed or wounded in trying to get 
this message through. He succeeded in his task, although 
blown up on the way. Later he rallied a party of men of another 
regiment who had started to retire, and kept them in position 
for the rest of the day under heavy fire. 

Lance-Corporal J. W. Butler was another prominent figure. 
When all his company officers were casualties he took his Lewis 
gun team forward and kept his gun in action when all the team 
except one ammunition carrier had fallen, and when the line 
was compelled to withdraw was the last to come in, bringing 
back not only his own gun, but another which had been aban- 
doned. Other good work with Lewis guns that attracted atten- 
tion was that of Corporal C. -Franklin, Corporal C. J. Diamond, 
Lance-Corporal W. G. Oliver, Lance-Corporal P. Salt, Private 
A. N. Nellor, and Private J. Ball. 

With all officers knocked out so early, it was essentially a day 
for initiative and leadership on the part of N.C.Os. Sergeant 
F. W. Hazell commanded his company with great coolness and 
ability throughout the day. Corporal E. A. Hart organized 
his company under heavy fire when there were no officers left. 
Later he volunteered to take command of an advanced post. 


and held it until relieved the following day. Platoons were 
commanded and led by Sergeants H. Berry and B. Armstrong, 
Private H. Thorns. Good work in tending and bringing in 
the wounded under fire was done by Privates W. Whare and 
E. W. Trott. 

Turning to the Northamptonshire Regiment, it has already 
been seen what an important part the work and example of 
Lieutenant T. R. Price (then adjutant) played in saving a 
critical situation. Nor will any who survived that day forget 
the gallantry of Lieutenant C. G. Kemp, the medical officer, 
whose cheerful and unceasing work, in spite of many casualties 
to stretcher-bearers, got the battlefield cleared in such short 

As in the Fusiliers, so in the Northamptonshire Regiment, the 
early loss of practically every officer threw a heavy responsibility 
on the other ranks, and they rose splendidly to the occasion. 
During the forming up of his company under fire Company 
Sergeant-Major O. Cuthbert stood on top of a bank the whole 
time, until the last man was in position, and his coolness did 
much to steady the men in a very unpleasant situation. All 
the officers of the company were casualties as soon as the com- 
pany moved forward, and this warrant officer was shortly after- 
wards wounded, but refused to go back until he had handed over 
the company properly to the senior sergeant. Among the 
N.C.Os. who showed courage and good leadership in carrying 
on were Sergeants W. D. Toe, G. Quartermain, A. C. Gilbert, 
S. Flanagan, Corporal W. R. Thompson, and Lance-Corporals 
A. Lee, W. Wreford, and J. Hall. 

At least two other individual efforts attracted notice. Private 
Charles Chantrell was servant to the officer commanding the 
leading wave. When this officer and most of the N.C.Os. 
became casualties, before reaching the Ravine, he at once took 
charge of the platoon, lead them against a number of the enemy, 
whom he cleared out, reorganized in the Ravine, and proceeded 
with the advance. 

When Grandcourt Trench was reached, many Germans were 
found lying out in front, apparently dead. It occurred to 
Private J. W. Walsh to lift the cap from one of them. The 
man at once jumped up and held up his hands. The rest of 
the Germans who were also shamming dead were promptly 
dealt with. A machine gun and a number of rifles were lying 
by them, and but for Private Walsh's action the whole company 
would have been shot in the back. 

In the Middlesex battalion a great deal of excellent individual 
work was also done when Boom Ravine was reached. 2nd-Lieu- 
tenant R. Charlesworth was the only officer left in two com- 
panies. Taking command, he carried out the work of dug-out 
clearing with great energy and thoroughness, and organized 
the consolidation in a very capable manner. In the same 

G 2 

work Company Sergeant-Major J. Warner also distinguished 

Operations in front of South Miraumont Trench, when two 
companies of the Middlesex Regiment had been moved up to 
the front line, was marked by some fine examples of initiative. 
When an enemy machine gun became a nuisance. Sergeant T. 
Travers, although suffering from a painful wound, led a bombing 
attack over the open, blew up the gun and some of the gunners, 
and took the rest prisoners. 

Privates H. S. Elliott and W. Taylor did similar good work. 
At one time the advance was held up by about fifty of the enemy, 
and by enfilade fire from a machine gun. Rushing forward 
with their Lewis gun on their own initiative to a spot where they 
got a better field of fire, they brought their gun into action with 
such good effect that the enemy's machine gun was knocked out, 
and the party of Germans were all killed, wounded, or taken 

During a counter-attack a certain platoon engaged in con- 
solidating Boom Ravine lost its officer and sergeant. Private 
A. Humphries at once took command, reorganized the men, 
and dug in, saving the situation at a critical moment. 

In the case of one of the companies. Sergeant G. Rowe took 
command when all the officers were casualties, took the men 
forward to the objective, and continued in command till relieved 
by an officer two days later. 

Chapter IX 


'TpHE almost immediate result of the operation of which the 
* Boom Ravine action formed a part was a tierman retirement 
towards the prepared defensive positions already known as the 
Hindenburg Line. 

The Brigade had a short but welcome spell of rest and training 
before taking part in the pursuit. Relieved in the line on 
February i8th, the battalions were first in the Martinsart area, 
and on March 2nd moved to the Thiepval area. Snow and rain, 
road-making parties, inspections and practice attacks, were the 
chief forms of gaiety. 

On the 1 2th the Brigade relieved the 53rd in the line, in the 
expectation of attacking the Loupart Line at an early date. 
The units were disposed as follows : — 

1 2th Middlesex Regiment — Right flank assaulting bat- 

6th Northamptonshire Regiment — Right centre assaulting 

7th Bedfordshire Regiment — Left centre assaulting bat- 

nth Royal I"'usiliers — Left Hank battalion, to form a left 
defensive flank to the attack of the other three battalions. 

Sections of the 54th Machine Gun Company were distributed 
along the front and in reserve. The 54th Trench Mortar Battery 
was held in reserve. Brigade headquarters were in a dug-out 
on the West Miraumont road. 

Owing to the darkness of the night, the bad state of the ground 
after weeks of snow and rain, and the difficulty of taking over 
a front which consisted of a line of strong points and posts, 
the relief was not completed till 6 a.m. on the morning of 
March 13th. 

The Fusiliers on the left came in for a good deal of sniping 
from Achiet-le-petit. Lieutenant Little, battalion sniping offi- 
cer, was killed by a sniper. He was an artist, and designed 
two Christmas cards for Christmas, 191 6. One in colours, for 
the Fusiliers, represented a Fusilier taking part in the July attack 
on the Somme ; the other, for the Brigade, was a pen-and-ink 
sketch of the square at Albert, showing the church with the lean- 
ing figure of the Virgin and the square crammed with troops. 

Everything was now ready for an attack which did not come 
off, owing to the natural law that it takes two to make a 



quarrel, and the people we had arranged to quarrel with did not 
wait for the show. 

In this connection, and as showing that hardships and hard 
work are not the inclusive monopoly of the fighting troops, 
the following account of what an attack means to the clerical 
staff at Brigade headtjuarters is of interest. Corporal E. W. A. 
Campbell describes the affair as he saw it : — 

In those days of trench-to-trench attacks very detailed 
information and orders were issued for each assault, entailing 
a great deal of typing and duplicating work. The Brigade 
clerks worked a whole day and night getting out the orders 
(luckily rum was issued that night, and kept them going !), 
and the following day had to pack up, load wagons, and 
move up to forward headquarters — a dug-out in the West 
Miraumont road. 

" On the way up there we had to pass through C»rand- 
court, which had previously been obliterated by our heavies, 
and the state of the roads was almost beyond description. 
The passable part of the road was naturally very narrow, 
and a caterpillar had become ditched at a very bad spot. 
The R.Es. managed to construct a dMour by bridging shell- 
holes, and all transport had to pass round by an unmetalled 
track. Owing to the .state of the ground, all artillery 
ammunition was being taken up by pack animals, . and 
long streams of these were continually passing to and fro. 

" The d^touy tracks naturally became like a quagmire in 
a very short time, and, to make things worse, one of the 
Brigade headquarters' wagons missed one of the small 
bridges with the off-wheels, and tipped sideways into the 
water, putting a pair of mules on their backs. It took 
about three hours tc^ get this out, and then it could only 
be done by unloading the wagon and man-handling it. 
All wheeled traffic was held up, but the pack animals man- 
aged to get through by splashing through the water. Many 
of them were so exhausted that they lay down and refused 
to get up again, and were dragged to one side and left to 
die in the mud. 

" The Brigade headquarters transport, with clerks, 
servants, and other personnel, finally arrived at the West 
Miraumont road about midnight, and unloaded at the corner 
just in Petit Miraumont — on to a dead mule which could 
not be seen in the mud and darkness ! There was hardly 
any trace of a road. It was simply a mass of shell-holes, 
full of water, and one went down knee-deep in mud as one 
.tried to pick a way between the holes. Stationery boxes 
and office gear had to be carried to the dug-out about loo 
yards up the road, and the going was so heavy that the 
clerks were often brought to their knees with boxes on 
their shoulders. 


" The dug-out was found to be a very poor one. It had 
either been strained by shell fire or damaged by the Bosche 
before leaving, and it leaked very badly. It was also very 
small, and the space allotted for the office was about 4 feet 
square. There was one small table on which to do typing, 
duplicating, and all other office work, and the clerks had 
to sleep either under this table or on the stairs. They had 
been working continually for over forty hours, so simply 
went to sleep wherever they happened to fall. 

" The crowning joke came between 3 and 4 a.m., about 
an hour after they had gone to sleep, when a message 
arrived announcing that ' Jerry ' had run away. The 
Brigade Major came in for somebody to write a message, 
and was quite upset when he found that all his efforts to 
wake the clerks were futile. However, one of the signallers 
finally managed to do so, and one can imagine the thoughts 
of the clerks when they found that the work which had 
taken so many hours to do had all been in vain." 
What had happened was soon made clear. An Anzac patrol 
had entered the Loupart line at the south-eastern edge of 
Toupart Wood at 3 a.m., and found that the Germans had dis- 
appeared in the darkness, going through the motions of folding 
their tents like the Arabs and silently stealing away in the 
most approved manner. 

Patrols had now to be sent forward, a particularly cheering 
job, as we had only just arrived, the relief was barely complete, 
and we had not seen our front by daylight. However, by 
10 a.m. the Brigade had moved forward, dealt with a belt of 
uncut wire as well as possible, and occupied the Loupart line 
from its junction with the Mirauniont-Achiet-le-Grand Rail- 
way on the left to about the west end of Loupart Wood on our 
right, where we joined with the 6th Brigade (2nd Division). 
The Fusiliers again formed a defensive left flank. 

Battle patrols pushed forward by the Bedfordshire, North- 
amptonshire, and Middlesex Regiments gained the Achiet-le- 
Petit-Grevillers road, with little opposition except for some 
machine-gun fire. But it soon became evident that the enemy 
was still in Achiet-le-Petit, and was holding on to the Bihucourt 
line. Some important high ground was occupied by the Bed- 
fordshire Regiment, after a short skirmish in which two machine 
guns were captured, but night came down with no alteration 
in the general position. 

The Division on our left having failed so far to take Achiet- 
le-Petit, the Fusiliers, holding our left flank, had on the whole 
the busiest time. Captain N. R. Neate, of the Fusihers, did good 
work throughout the day in protecting his battahons' left flank, 
and, though wounded in the leg early in the proceedings, refused 
to leave his company till evening, when assured that the line 
was safe against counter-attack. 


It was on the same day that Lieutenant D. Fuller, of the 
Fusiliers, did a gallant piece of work in rescuing one of his 
platoon. The man had been embedded in the mud for some 
hours. Although his hands were frostbitten and poif-^oned. 
Fuller dug with his hands for three and a half hours, no tools 
being available. Through a heavy barrage at dawn, and much 
sniping afterwards in an exposed place where three men had 
been killed by a sniper the previous day, he toiled on till he 
had released the man. In this task he was assisted by acting 
Company Sergeant-Major W. T. Burch, who worked with him 
till he could hardly move with cold and cramp. 

Much good patrolling over a dangerous space, in full view 
of enemy snipers, was done at this time by 2nd-Licutenant 
E. L. Jones, of the same battalion. On one occasion all three 
men who went out with him were killed, and he had to lie 
motionless while snipers put bullet after bullet into the dead 
men. He brought back most valuable information. 

Corporal W. Whare, in charge of the Fusilier stretcher- 
bearers, also showed great gallantry and devotion to duty on 
this and following days, searching out and dressing the wounded 
under heavy fire. Another stretcher-bearer, Lance-Corporal 
T. Watson, who was working with him, volunteered to take a 
party of stretcher-bearers beyond our lines to a spot swept 
by snipers and machine gunners to find a wounded officer, 
and in a gully attended to the woinided for two hours under 
heavy fire. 

Early on the 14th Germans were seen massing near the rail- 
way-junction south-west of Achiet-le-Grand, apparently with 
a view to retaking the high ground which, as already mentioned, 
had been seized by the Bedfordshires the previous day. The 
enemy shelled this ground heavily, but a concentration of all 
our available guns on the derman masses put an end to any 
threat from that direction. Apart from this there was little 
doing throughout the day, but our patrols were frequently sent 
forward, and immediately came under heavy machine-gun fire. 

Until the morning of the 17th patrols were the chief form of 
activity, but there was an air of expectancy over the whole 
Brigade, for everything pointed to a big German withdrawal. 
Officers and men, sick of trench warfare, with its constant strain 
and occasional advances of a few yards at terrible cost, were 
asking themselves whether we were to have open warfare at 
last. Though the end was still eighteen months away, and the 
fortune of war was to give us many ups and downs, this was the 
first welcome siign of the cracking of the German line. 

Just before dawn on the 15th a Middlesex Regiment patrol 
worked its way through the Bihucourt line into Bihucourt 
village itself, where Germans and transport were seen. As soon 
as this report came in, the officer commanding the Middlesex 
Regiment sent forward a strong battle patrol to occupy the 


Bihucourt line, and the Bedfordshires endeavoured to advance 
in the direction of Achiet-le-Grand. But, probably owing to 
the fact that the first patrol had been seen, these battle patrols 
came under very heavy machine-gun fire from Bihucourt and 
Achiet-le-Grand villages, and they were unable to advance. 
They at once took cover in folds in the ground, and casualties 
were few. 

During the day the enemy heavily shelled our forward posi- 
tions, but this was easier to put up with in view of the hopeful 
outlook, for Division had ordered that, in view of a probable 
enemy withdrawal, we were to have an advance-guard of all 
arms ready to go through. The war seemed to be rapidly im- 
proving, and we were well on our toes for the word " go." 

Early on the 1 7th our patrols reported the Bihucourt line 
unoccupied, and the Middlesex Regiment occupied the village of 
that name witli little opposition and few casualties, but were 
unable to advance beyond owing to heavy machine-gun fire. 
Shortly afterwards the Bedfordshire Regiment also got forward, 
and occupied the village of Achiet-le-Grand with little loss, and 
at the same time Achiet-le-Petit was occupied by the Division 
on our left. 

During these operations Private Christopher August Cox, of 
the Bedfordshire Regiment, was awarded the V.C. for his fine 
work as a stretcher-bearer. The official account of his action 
reads as follows : — 

" For conspicuous gallantry' and devotion to duty as a 
stretcher-bearer during operations in front of Achiet-le- 
Grand on March 15th, 1917, and subsecjuent days. 

" During the attacks on the 13th, under heavy rifle, 
machine-gun, and shell fire on an exposed crest, Private 
Cox worked continuously, carrying back wounded men on 
his shoulders. On the lOth and 17th he continued this 
work without rest, and with a complete disregard of his 
own safety. 

" This man has been in every engagement in which his 
battahon has taken part since July, 1916, and has always 
displayed the highest example of unselfishness, devotion, 
and personal courage." 

Much good work was done during the patrolling activities of 
these few days. 

On one occasion Sergeant H. A. Clarke, of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment, with one man, carried out a daring reconnaissance 
for 300 yards along a trench leading to the enemy's position, 
and later led his platoon with great skill. When some of his 
men were buried, he worked foi half an hour under heavy shell 
fire digging them out. 

During the same period Sergeant Walter Fritz, of the North- 
amptonshire Regiment, also distinguished himself on patrol, on 


one occasion exploring some 400 yards of enemy trench, and 
bringing back very useful information. It was he who, on the 
morning of March 13th, reported to his battalion that the enemy 
had evacuated the Loupart line on their front. 

In the case of the Middlesex Regiment much good work was 
also done, notably by Sergeants A. Hampson, J. Kenney, and 
S. V. Whale, not only in carrying out valuable patrol work, but 
in leading their platoons in difificult circumstances. Lance- 
Corporal H. J. Langley and Private John Dun lop were also 
noted for good work on patrol. 

No one who was there will be likely to forget the line work 
of the machine guns and the gallantry of the gunners. Corporal 
J. Goodall, a Yorkshire Territorial attached to the 54th Machine 
Gun Company, took command of two guns when his officer and 
sergeant were casualties, and fought them with great courage 
and skill. Three Gordons, also attached to the Brigade's 
Machine Gun Company, displayed the same fine spirit. They 
were Lance-Corporal J. Douglas, who, when all the rest of his 
team were casualties, remained on sentry at his gun position 
for eight hours under heavy shell fire, and Privates D. Lees and 
A. Bradley, who kept their gun in action in a very exposed 
place, and so helped the infantry forward, when tlie rest of their 
team were killed. Later they dug out three men who had been 
buried under heavy shelling. 

Before dawn on the i8th Bedfordshire and Middlesex patrols 
found that the enemy had made a further withdrawal from his 
line of posts north-east of Achiet-Ie-Grand and Bihucourt. 
These two battalions were then ordered to push patrols forward 
and make good the ground 800 yards beyond the aforementioned 
villages, to allow of an advanced guard passing through our 
outpost line at Bihucourt. It seemed too good to be true, 
after knowing nothing and hearing nothing of anything but 
trench warfare since arriving in France, to be setting out into 
open country with an advance guard. Were the weary days 
of trench warfare giving place to open warfare at last ? The 
very words " advanced guard " were cheerful and inspiring. 
This was " Infantry Training " and " Field Service Regula- 
tions " come true, and we asked for nothing better than to tear 
up all the latter-day manuals on trench warfare and get on 
with the war. 

The advanced guard was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel 
R. Turner, D.S.O., commanding the 6th Northamptonshire 
Regiment, and composed as follows : — 

6th Northamptonshire Regiment. 
I Squadron Yorkshire Dragoons. 
I Section 54th M.G. Company. 
I Company 80th Field Company R.E. 
I Section 82nd Battery R.F.A. 

At 8 a.m. on March i8th it passed through our outpost line, 
with the village of Ervilliers, three miles almost due north of 


Bihucourt, as its objective. It was the first fine day of spring, 
the ground was drying up, there was sunshine over the country- 
side, and wc were moving over unshelled, unshattered country, 
with officers mounted and a march of no less than three miles 
into " enemy country " before us. A good war indeed ! 

Cavalry patrols were on ahead, followed by a line of infantry 
scouts, then the two leading companies of the Northamptonshire 
Regiment in artillery formation, with the rest of the advance 
guard following in column of route. That progress in fours 
into land so recently held by the Bosche was the crowning joy, 
and as the ground was drying up, we were able to go straight 
across country, independent of roads, to where the little village 
of Ervilliers stood on its hilltop. 

Brigade hcadcjuarters were moved to just south of Bihucourt. 
The other units of the group remained in their present posi- 

The advance guard reached Ervilliers after an eventful march, 
the cavalry failing to get into touch with the enemy till they 
reached the high ground beyond the village, on the way to 
St. Leger. An outpost line on the line of the Ervilliers-Be- 
hagnies road was occupied that night, and on the following morn- 
ing the march was continued a further two and a half miles 
north-east to St. Leger, which was occupied with little opposi- 
tion. During this day's march some Indian Cavalry (Lucknow 
Cavalry Brigade) co-operated. 

After the occupation of St. Leger, Croisilles, a small town 
about two miles farther on, was found to be strongly held. 
The advance guard therefore took up an outpost line roughly 
on the line of the St. Leger- Vaulx-Vrancourt road, the latter 
place having been occupied by the ist Anzacs. In the after- 
noon the Fusiliers were brought up on the right of the North- 
amptonshire Regiment, with headquarters and two reserve 
companies at Mory. Brigade headquarters and the Bedford- 
shire Regiment moved forward to Ervilliers, and the Middlesex 
Regiment to Behagnies and Sapignies. Indian cavalry patrols 
protected our left flank. Up to the present we had seen nothing 
of the Bosche, with the exception of one found asleep in his 
billet, and sent back a prisoner on a cable cart to Bihucourt. 

Things were going very well, but that the Germans were not 
exactly in full flight, and that it was unwise to push forward 
" into the blue," was shown by an incident which some of the 
Fusiliers' officers will remember. Colonel Carr, commanding 
that battalion, was told by the commanding officer of the bat- 
tahon he relieved at Mory that Ecoust (about four miles farther 
east) was unoccupied, that his second-in-command had ridden 
up to it, and could have ridden right through it if he had had 
time. He urged Colonel Carr to report that he was in posses- 
sion, and was quite hurt at a refusal. Next morning the Anzacs 
on our right attacked Ecoust, but were met by heavy machine- 


gun fire and suffered heavy casualties, and as a matter of fact 
the place was not taken until a week or two later. 

Orders were issued that night (March 19th) for the advance 
guard to push forward next morning, with a view to occupying 
Croisilles if it were not too strongly held by the enemy. 

During the night one section of the 82nd Battery R.F.A. 
was moved into action to support the proposed assault, and at 
dawn on March 20th the advance guard moved off. The attack 
was supported by the " Chestnut " Battery R.H.A., as well 
as the field guns already mentioned, and by overhead machine- 
gun fire by the 34th Machine Gun Company, posted south of 
St. Leger. Cavalry protected the flanks, the Corps Cavalry 
on the right, and the Indian Cavalry on the left. 

The four companies of the Northamptonshire Regiment ad- 
vanced in line — " A," " B," " C," " D," from right to left. 
Their attack followed roughly the line of a valley running from 
St. Leger to Croisilles, " A " Company being on the south of 
the valley, " B " seeking to work up the valley itself, and " C " 
and " D " advancing on the northerly slope. 

Things did not go well, and it was soon evident that the place 
was too strongly held for a one-battalion attack with so little 
artillery support. " A " Company were imable to leave 
the wood in which they had deployed for the attack, owing to 
heavy shelling and machine-gun fire, and suffered rather heavy 

" B " Company had better luck, managing to work up the 
valley and dislodge a (ierman advanced post, and making good 
progress in spite of heavy shelling. 

" C " and " D " Companies, on the northern slope of the 
valley, got ahead at first, but after going 400 or 500 yards came 
under heavy machine-gun and shell fire, and weie held up. 

By 10.30 a.m. it became evident that the attack could not 
succeed, and the rather difficult job of extricating the assaulting 
companies had to be carried out. This was done io perfect 
order, and by 12.30 all were back in the outpost line they had 
been holding, except about forty men of " D " Company, who 
were collected by Sergeant F. D. Lawrence in a fold of ground 
where they were hidden from the enemy, but from which it 
was not wise to move by daylight. There they decided to lie 
till dark. But about 4 p.m. a party of Cicrmans came up on 
their right, threatening to outflank them. They therefore came 
back in small parties without casualty. They left behind one 
or two wounded men, who were recovered the same evening 
by the 8th Devonshire Regiment, who relieved the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment. 

Sergeant J. C. Tite, already wearing the Military Medal for 
gallantry, led his platoon forward under fire, in the absence of 
an officer, and when the order came to withdraw brought them 
out of the firing line in the same cool and skilful manner. 


The cavalry on either flank were also unable to get forward, 
owing to machine-gun fire. Two companies of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment were moved up to St. Leger to support the North- 
amptonshires' attack, but in the circumstances were not put 
into the line. 

Arrangements were then made for more artillery to be brought 
up for a further attack on the following day. However, that 
afternoon news came that the Brigade was to be relieved by 
the 2oth Brigade (7th Division), and by 7 p.m. this relief had 
been carried out, the Northamptonshires handing over to the 
8th Devonshires, and the Fusiliers to the ist Gordons. 

On the following day the 54th Brigade was concentrated in 
the Bihucourt area, and the first little experience of open war- 
fare was over, to be renewed exactly a year later, with the 
Germans doing the pushing, and ourselves doing the rearguard 
work and the withdrawing. But that is a later story. 

The Brigade was now sent on a little tour of France, to end 
up eventually in the spot where they started. On March 22nd 
they marched to the Contay area (west of Albert). The next 
day's march (due west) brought them to the Villers-Bocage area. 

Here the Army tried an experiment in concentrating a Division 
in lorries. It was a weird and wonderful performance. The 
units of the Brigade were scattered over an area roughly six 
miles north of Amiens, and the problem, as seen by higher 
authority, to get them to an area a mile or two .south-west of 
the city — say, a three-hour route march. As the experiment 
was seen by at least one battalion, it meant a two-mile march 
to where the lorries were to be met, a four-hour wait for the 
lorries, a four-hour journey by lorry, and then a six-mile route 
march to billets. No rations were available, as transport had 
been sent on ahead. It was encouraging to hear a fortnight 
later that " the experiment was most successful." 

This had brought the Brigade to the south-west of Amiens. 
Headquarters, with the Machine Gun Company and the Trench 
Mortar Battery, were at Revelles ; the Fusiliers, Northampton- 
shire Regiment, 54th Field Ambulance, and 80th Field Company 
R.E., were at Dury ; the Bedfordshire Regiment at Bovelles ; 
and the Middlesex Regiment at Vers. 

On March 26th the Brigade entrained for the north, and on 
the following day detrained in the Aire area, being billeted at 
Thiennes, Steenbeck, and Guarbeck, about half-way between 
Bethune and St. Omer. 

While here news was received that General T. H. Shoubridge, 
commanding the Brigade, who had proceeded on leave when 
we came out of the line at St. Leger, had been recalled to com- 
mand the 7th Division, and on April 6th Brigadier-General 
(i. Cunlitfe-Owen took over command of the Brigade. 

Training, with focjtball and boxing tournaments and cross- 
country runs, now occupied our days. 


On April 21st the Brigade moved a few miles south to the 
Busnes area, and continued training till the 26th, when a move 
was made yet a little farther south to the Pernes area. The 
following day's march was to Bryas, a little north of St. Pol, 
where the Brigade entrained for Arras. 

Arras was not reached till nearly 11 p.m., and then followed 
a march of some miles south-east to Neuville Vitasse. It was 
after i a.m. on April 28th when at last the weary battalions 
found themselves among the ruins of the village and the trenches 
and shell-holes in front, where they bivouacked. The word went 
round that we were close up to the Hindenburg line, and every- 
one wondered what next would happen. The sector in front 
of Heninel was taken over, and all was in trim for the next 

On the night of May ist Captain H. M. Eldridge, of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, commanding the 54th Trench 
Mortar Battery, did a gallant piece of work. A shell burst on 
a dump of i8-pounder ammunition, setting fire to the camouflage 
covering. Although knowing that it might explode at any 
minute, he rushed to the dump and, no water being available, 
put out the fire by throwing earth and stamping on it, thus 
saving the ammunition and the lives of many men who were 
near at hand. 

One hopes that there are many Fusiliers still left who remember 
an amusing incident — at least, it seemed amusing at the time, 
and served to brighten a tired and " fed up " moment — when 
the battalion was marching into this sector from Arras. 

Late at night a company came to a railway level-crossing, 
the gates of which were shut. The Major in command walked 
to the gate-keeper's cottage, and after much knocking at the 
door, an old Frenchman appeared in what he may have called 
his robes de nuit. 

The Major was not fluent in French, but having faith that 
pigeon-English would take a man anywhere, solemnly said : 
" Plentee English soldier come ! Open gates, quick, quick !" 
The old Frenchman did not grasp this at all, and the Major 
repeated it louder, but still with no result. Thereupon the 
Major became fuiious, and shouted at the top of his voice : 
" Plentee English soldier come ! Open gates, quick, quick !" 

The Frenchman again shook his head. Thereupon the humour 
of the situation dawned upon the Major, who burst into laughter, 

saying : " Hang these Frenchmen ! They're so dense !" 

A man of the company who knew a little French then intervened, 
the gates were opened, and the march was resumed. But the 
men no longer dragged their legs wearily along. They now 
stepped out cheerily, singing to all the popular tunes of the day : 
" Plentee English soldier come ! Open gates, quick, quick !" 


I suppose the whole point of the story is that it has no real 
point at all, but it serves at least to show how slight are the 
humours on which men will seize to cheer themselves up in 
weary moments, and perhaps that is an excuse for so many 
stories of this war that look a little thin when set down in cold 

Chapter X 


npHE attack on May 3rd was to be against the Cherisy position, 
'^ about four miles north-west of the point the Brigade had 
reached in its pursuit of the retreating Germans in March. 

The Brigade front was from Cherisy on the left nearly to 
Fontaine-les Croisilles on the right. Fontaine Trench, which 
was heavily wired, and about 500 yards from our forming-up 
line, covered Cherisy. Our task was to force the hne of the 
Sensee River, which here runs roughly north and south, between 
the above mentioned villages, then to push forward to the high 
ground east of Cherisy, and dig in there. The operation was 
part of a big attack from Bullecourt in the south almost to Lens 
in the north. Our jumping-off line consisted of trenches and 
shell-holes about 150 yards west of the crest between Heninel 
and Cherisy, and from this point there was no observation over 
Cherisy or the Sensee Valley. 

The assaulting battalions were the Bedfordshire Regiment on 
the right and the Middlesex Regiment on the left. " B " Com- 
pany of the Fusiliers (Captain Neate) was attached to the 
Middlesex Regiment to " mop-up " Cherisy village, and two 
platoons of " D " Company of the same battalion were attached 
to the Bedfordshire Regiment for " mopping-up." " C " Com- 
pany' and the rest of " D " were in support, and " A " Company 
was used to move up dumps. The Northamptonshire Regiment 
was in reserve. The Bedfordshire Regiment attacked with 
" A " Company (Lieutenant Treraeer) on the right, " D " 
(2nd-Lieutenant Driver) on the left, " B " (Captain Bull) in 
support, and " C " (Captain L. H. Keep) in reserve. 

It was evident that the Germans had a great number of 
heavy guns opposite us, but his field artillery had apparently 
been withdrawn. We had a big concentration of held guns 
behind -us, 18-pounders being wheel to wheel along the ridge 
in front of Heninel. 

A Bedfordshire officer who took part in the attack afterwards 
jotted down the following narrative : — 

" The forming up took place without incident, and zero hour 
was to be at 3.30 a.m. About 3 a.m. each man was visited in 
his shell-hole, and all seemed in good fettle. Unfortunately 
for us, when our barrage opened at precisely 3.30 it was still 
pitch dark, and in point of fact it was not light enough to see 
until after 4 a.m. This was a serious handicap, as we had to 
go [with men extended to nearly 10 yards apart] about 500 yards 



up a slope, over a crest, and down the other side, before we came 
to the first Bosche trench. 

" With no landmarks to guide us in the dark, it was almost 
impossible to maintain direction. The Bosche was very smart 
[about twenty to thirty seconds] in getting his heavy barrage 
down on and in front of our forming-up line, and the rear com- 
panies suffered severe casualties in passing over our front lines. 

" On reaching the crest of the slope the Bedfordshires found 
themselves enfiladed from Cherisy on the left and from Fontaine 
Wood on the right by very deadly ' grazing ' machine-gun fire. 
However, the officers, led gallantly by Major [then Captain] 
Keep, rallied the men and pushed on through this withering 
fire until, seriously reduced in numbers, they were confronted 
by a deep belt of uncut wire in front of Fontaine Trench. 

" It was now broad daylight, and the remnant of the Bed- 
fordshire Regiment was reorganized amidst this hail of machine- 
gun fire, to which had now been added the fire of snipers posted 
in Fontaine Wood and in the ruins of Cherisy. The Bedford- 
shire Regiment then consolidated a line immediately in front 
of Fontaine Trench, having made good, but at a terrible price, 
an advance of over 400 yards. Many feats of gallantry were 
performed that day, and many that have never and can never 
be reported. It has, however, since been established that small 
parties of the Bedfordshire Regiment fought their way right 
through Fontaine Trench and beyond until they were all killed. 

" Of the company officers who started, two only came out 
of the action unwounded. Captain Bull, of ' B ' Company, 
who had just returned from England after being wounded on 
July 1st, 1916, was killed. His was a very great loss, as he was 
one of the very finest officers we ever had. 

" Lieutenant P. J. Reiss won the M.C. that day. With his 
platoon he set a fine example to the regiment in holding on 
and fighting the Bosche all day, and, though wounded early in 
the proceedings, and in spite of the great heat, he remained in 
command of his men until exhausted in the evening. 

" Sergeant 'Alec' Lancaster, who won the M.M. in a raid early 
in 1916, got a bar. Seeing the situation, he, in spite of machine- 
gun and snipers' fire, in broad daylight walked down the whole 
of the battalion front, giving a word of cheer here and there, 
and organizing posts. He then recrossed No Man's Land, 
reported the situation to the Colonel, and returned to his post. 

" A D.C.M. was more than earned by Private Gladwish, 
servant to 2nd Lieutenant Kydd, of ' B ' Company, who was 
killed near Fontaine Trench. Gladwish tried to carry him back, 
but lost his way, and in the evening found himself on the wrong 
side of Fontaine Trench. For three days and three nights he 
tried to find his way back, though he could easily have given 
himself up to the Bosche. In spite of terrible thirst and hunger, 
he hid by day in shell-holes and reconnoitred by night. Finally, 


after three nights out, he found himself challenged by a British 
sentry, and was safe, though exhausted and looking like a 
hunted creature. His great devotion for his officer had led to 
his being cut off from his pals. 

" In the dusk of the evening of May 3rd the Northampton- 
shire Regiment was ordered to take Fontaine Trench, starting 
from our old front line. Many of the Bedfordshire Regiment 
voluntarily joined in as the Northamptonshires came up to 
their positions. It was impossible, however, to hold Fontaine 
Trench with the few men who succeeded in getting into it." 

A Fusilier officer who was with the Middlesex Regiment also 
jotted down his recollections of the fight, as follows : — • 

" When the Brigade got up to Fontaine Trench they found 
the thick wire uncut. In consequence the whole of the Bed- 
fordshire Regiment and half the Middlesex Regiment were held 
up and lost heavily. The troops remained in front of the line 
in shell-holes, sniping until dark, when they were withdrawn. 

" Lieutenant Knight, 12th Middlesex Regiment, attached 
54th Trench Mortar Battery, came back to report on the situa- 
tion, and, though sniped at all the time, got through without 
being hit by dodging from shell-hole to shell-hole. He then 
returned with orders from the Brigade in the same way, and 
withdrew the parties in his neighbourhood after dark. 

" Meanwhile the left part of the Middlesex attack, with Cap- 
tain Neate and ' B ' Company Fusiliers, had got right on, as 
they were to the left of Fontaine Trench, and cleared the Bosche 
out of Cherisy. They were soon afterwards strongly counter- 
attacked from the right, and the Germans regained possession of 
the village. Very few men and no officer of ' B ' Company got 
back to tell the story, and I think no officer of the Middlesex 
Regiment. Neate was last heard of firing his revolver at the 
Bosche coming on, and his death has since been confirmed. 

" Company Sergeant-Major Fitterer, who had done so well 
at Boom Ravine, had his jaw and face badly smashed by a 
bullet in Cherisy, and came back through the 55th Brigade 
area on our left. He was hit at the beginning of the Bosche 

" Neate was as gallant a boy as ever breathed. He was 
badly wounded in the head by a trench mortar early in 191 6, 
and was never really fit afterwards. His sight was permanently 
damaged, but he managed to persuade a Medical Board to send 
him out again somehow or other. He was wounded and awarded 
the M.C. at Achiet-le-Petit. Whilst in a casualty clearing 
station he heard that the battalion was marching through the 
village, so broke out of hospital and rejoined. He was nearly 
left out of the Cherisy fight, but in the end Colonel Carr allowed 
him to go. He was a lad of very high ideals, a most efficient 
officer, and as brave as a lion. He was loved by the whole 


battalion, and was certainly one of the very best officers we 
have ever had. 

" In the middle of the morning ' C ' Company of the Fusiliers 
were ordered to attack Fontaine Trench. There was no pre- 
liminary bombardment -or barrage, as the survivors of the dawn 
attack were still lying out in front of the line of Fontaine Trench 
and in No Man's Land. It was not a very hopeful project. 
As soon as they got over the ridge 150 yards in front of our 
front line they met a hot fire from machine guns and field guns 
and lost heavily, without being able to get near the trench." 

The position was necessarily obscure. All that was clear in 
the afternoon was that the Brigades on our right and left had 
been forced back to their jvmiping-off places, and that the 
remnants of the Middlesex and Bedfordshire Regiments were 
somewhere out in front, holding on among the shell-holes as 
best they could, and unable either to go forward or to with- 

At any rate, another attack was ordered for the evening, 
with the object of taking Fontaine Trench, or at least extricating 
what was left of the two assaulting battalions which had gone 
over before dawn. 

Two companies of the Northamptonshire Regiment, " B " 
(Captain Mobbs) and " C " (Captain Shepherd), were deployed 
for the attack, with orders to take Fontaine Trench at all costs. 
An artillery preparation began at 6.30 p.m., paused for fifteen 
minutes at 7.0, and at 7.15 down came the barrage, and over 
went the assaulting companies close behind it. 

As Fontaine Trench was approached a party of Germans 
with a captured Lewis gun popped up and began a dispute 
that was ended in fine style by Lieutenant G. P. Harding, who 
rushed to a flank and bombed the gun out of action, killing 
two of the team, a feat for which he was awarded the M.C. 

The wire in front of Fontaine Trench proved too formidable 
an obstacle, and most of the line had to drop into shell-holes, 
where they were pinned down by heavy machine-gun fire for 
the rest of the proceedings. But on the left a sunken road 
running into Cherisy enabled Captain Shepherd, with Lieu- 
tenant H. C. Osborne and about thirty men, to work round and 
enter the trench. 

Lieutenant Osborne was the first to get in, and shot several 
of the enemy with his revolver. Though severely wounded in 
the head, he got together a team and led them bombing along 
the trench, which was cleared for about 150 yards. He was 
wounded a second time, but carried on with great courage 
and devotion to duty, winning a M.C. for this good piece of 

He was well backed up by Company Sergeant-Major E. W. 
Tack, who had won the M.M. at Trones Wood, and now won a 
bar to it. Under heavy machine-gun fire he organized his men, 

carried on the bombing operations with good effect, and when 
all our bombs were exhausted used German bombs. 

At this stage eight Lewis guns which had been lost earlier 
in the day were recaptured, and eventually four of them were 
got back to our lines, the other four only being lost because 
the men who tried to bring them in became casualties. 

Bombing operations in the trench became all too lively, for 
a tunnel gave the Germans a way of escape to a support trench 
about forty yards farther back, from which they bombed our 
men with plenty ot spirit. Our supplies were running out, 
Captain Shepherd attempted to send for more, but five runners, 
all volunteers, were shot dead one after the other as they left 
the trench to try and get back. 

By this time darkness had fallen, but machine-gun fire was 
sweeping the top of the trench so that not a finger could be shown 
above ground, and the place was alive with bombs. 

It became apparent that the trenches could not be held, for 
only ten men now remained of the thirty who had entered it, 
and orders were given for the survivors to make their way back 
the best they could. Diving from shell-hole to shell-hole, the 
old German cable trench that ran back into our line was at 
last reached, and here a bomb block was constructed, and a 
message sent back for more bombs. 

Later that night Captain Shepherd and Company Sergeant- 
Major Tack went out in the darkness and guided in the men 
who had been lying out before the German wire. This was 
no easy job in the darkness, and at least one party, seeing the 
guides advancing, took them for Germans, and made off in the 
other direction, and were not seen again. 

So ended a bad day. What went wrong, and why the attempt 
failed, are questions that need not be thrashed out here. But 
at least officers and men of the Brigade had done ail that could 
be done in very adverse circumstances, and the awards made 
revealed a number of cases of splendid individual heroism. 

Lieutenant K. Knight, a Middlesex officer attached to the 
Trench Mortar Battery, was awarded the M.C. in circumstances 
already referred to. According to the official account, he 
" went forward with an assaulting company of the 12th Middlesex 
Regiment. When the retirement took place, he and two or 
three men maintained their position in a shell-hole and sniped 
the enemy during the day. When darkness came on, realizing 
that the counter-attack liad not succeeded, he made his way 
back to our lines, and in doing so came across a party of the 
7th Bedfordshire Regiment, about fifty strong, who had con- 
solidated a series of shell-holes about 500 yards in front of our 
line. On his return he reported this fact, and when it had been 
decided that this party should withdraw, he volunteered to go out 
again and bring them in. In this he was successful ; and, not- 
withstanding heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, he brought the 
whole party back vdthout casualty." 

Corporal S. H. Martin was one of five Fusiliers awai'ded the 
M.M. for that day's work. " He displayed great courage and 
tenacity in holding for several hours ground which had been 
gained in the advance. With a small party, in spite of casualties 
caused by heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, he kept the 
enemy in a strong post under continual fire, thus enabling the 
troops on his left to withdraw with comparative safety." 

Captain K. H. Nelson, R.A.M.C, the Bedfordshire Regiment's 
medical officer, won the M.C. that day. According to the 
official account, his " unselfish devotion to duty throughout 
the action was the direct cause of many lives being saved. 
He worked throughout the day in No Man's Land under heavy 
machine-gun fire, and at times intense artillery fire. It was 
through his careful search of the battlefield that most of the 
more serious cases were found and brought back. Time after 
time he went practically as far out as our most advanced posi- 
tions in the endeavour to attend to the wounded." 

For similar work a D.C.M. went to Corporal H. Swannell, 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment, who worked continuously for 
over twelve hours tending the wounded under fire. 

Among the Northamptonshires, Captain (now Major) Shepherd 
was awarded a bar to the M.C. he had won at Trones Wood, 
and the awards to Lieutenant Osborne and Harding and Com- 
pany Sergeant-Major Tack have already been mentioned. 

A D.C.M. went to Sergeant S. V. Whale, of the Middlesex 
Regiment, who already wore the M.M. " After all the officers 
of his company had been killed [says the official account], he 
took command of a mixed body of troops from several battalions, 
organized them, formed strong points and posts, and controlled 
their fire with good effect. Upon the party being reduced from 
fifty to a mere handful, he collected other men as reinforcements, 
and sent back progress reports." 

For good work with this sergeant. Private Alfred Fox, of the 
same- battalion, also received the D.C.M. When the party was 
forced to retire, he, with Sergeant Whale, covered the retire- 
ment for half an hour with a Lewis gun, and afterwards volun- 
teered to take a report back under very heavy fire. 

Among other Middlesex men whose good work that day won 
recognition were the following : — 

Sergeant E. Isherwood, D.C.M. : " Besides leading and keep- 
ing his platoon together under very trying circumstances, he 
volunteered to form a strong point on the outskirts of the 
village (Cherisy), leaving a remnant of his platoon under another 
sergeant. Taking ten men under very heavy rifle and machine- 
gun fire, he formed the strong point, from which he was able 
to inflict severe loss on the enemy, and hold it throughout the 

Sergeant T. T. Lucas, D.C.M. : " After his platoon commander 
was wounded very early in the fight, he rallied his men and 

took them as far as the German trench. When the company 
sergeant-major became a casualty, he took over the duties, and 
was instrumental, with other N.C.Os. and certain officers, in 
rallying the men of his own and the Bedfordshire Regiments, 
when they started to retire, getting them, in spite of heavy 
enemy shelling and machine-gun fire, to go forward to the 
attack once more. They advanced in spite of heavy losses, 
as far as the wire in front of the enemy trench, but were unable 
to get through owing to the intensity of the enemy fire and the 
fact of the wire being intact. The party were subsequently 
ordered to retire, and Sergeant Lucas displayed great initiative 
and resource in organizing the retirement, and when the retire- 
ment had been successfully carried out, and not till then, did 
he himself retire." 

Private F, List, M.M. : " Was No. 2 on a Lewis gun. For 
two hours he kept his gun in action from a position quite close 
to the enemy's lines. No. i was then killed, and List remained 
with the gun for a further sixteen hours, then returning under 
cover of darkness to our lines, bringing the gun with him." 

Corporal H. Lucas, M.M. : " On reaching the outskirts of the 
village (Cherisy), he found men of various units disorganized 
and without a leader. He got about forty together, led them 
forward to the river beyond the village, where they made a 
vigorous but unsuccessful attack on a hostile machine-gun 

Sergeant J. G. Holmes, M.M. : " Succeeded in rallying and 
leading forward to a fresh attack men of his own and another 
regiment who had started to retire. The party dug themselves 
in close to the enemy's lines, and maintained the position for 
several hours until, when darkness came on, they were ordered 
back. He organized the retirement, bringing up the rear. 
He afterwards went out again with 2nd-Lieutenant Knight, 
and brought in all men who could be found, about fifty, and 
later personally conducted stretcher-bearers to where wounded 
were lying out." 

Lance-Corporal D. H. Hughes, M.M. : " On being unable to 
ascertain from whom the order to retire originated, he refused 
to return, collected a few men, and formed a strong point close 
to the enemy's wire." 

Captain H. Perks, of the Middlesex Regiment, who was at 
first reported killed, but was afterwards found to be a prisoner, 
did some fine work in the village of Cherisy. He was in com- 
mand of the support company. Seeing that the attack on the 
right had failed, and that German reinforcements were pouring 
in from Fontaine-les-Croisilles, he got together some fifty or 
sixty nien, and attempted to form a defensive flank near the 
cross-roads at the southern end of the village. In doing this 
he exposed himself freely, and was wounded several times, but 


carried on till he was hit in the head and fell apparently dead. 
The little garrison continued to hold up the enemy till a general 
retirement took place later in the day, when all that were left, 
only eight men, made their way back. 

On the night of May 4th the Brigade was relieved and went 
back to Neuvillc Vitasse, and afterwards to the Henu area. 
There they remained in support till the beginning of June, 
carrying on with training and working parties. 

The Brigade took over the Divisional front on June 2nd, in 
front of Cherisy, the Northamptonshire Regiment holding the 
left sector, the Fusiliers the right, with the Bedfordshire Regiment 
in support and the IVfiddlesex Regiment in reserve. 

While the relief was in progress, the enemy put over a heavy 
bombardment on the sector where the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment was taking over from the 7th Royal West Kent Regiment, 
and rushed and captured certain advanced posts which had been 
held by the latter battalion. The West Kent Regiment, aided 
by two platoons of the Northamptonshire Regiment, at once 
counter-attacked, and retook the captured posts, with the 
exception of one known as Horseshoe Post. 

This particular post figured largely in events of the next few 
days. It was, as its name suggests, a small horseshoe-shaped 
trench which the Germans had dug out around a shell-hole in 
front of Fontaine Trench, about half-way across to the trenches 
and shell-holes which we were now holding. As it could be 
enfiladed by the Germans from Cherisy tillage, it was by no 
means a health resort, but at the same time its position made it 
of interest to both sides. Thus it often changed hands — one 
night we would hold it, and the next the Germans would shell 
us out and take over, only to be ejected in turn when oux trench 
mortars got busy. 

As it was lost to our side during the relief, it was up to the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, according to the rules of the game, 
to get it back the next night. Accordingly our trench mortars 
and 4'5's gave it some spell of discomfort on the afternoon of 
June 3rd, and at 11 p.m. that night two platoons of the North- 
amptonshire Regiment, led by Lieutenant Beckenham, rushed 
across under shrapnel and recaptured the post. Twelve dead 
Germans and twenty-five rifles were found in and around the 
spot. On the following day the Germans heavily shelled the 
post at intervals, but we managed to hold on, and on the 5th 
the post was wired in. 

At best the Horseshoe was only a shell-hole that had been 
consolidated and improved, and it never changed hands before 
it had been battered out of recognition. But size is relative, 
and the capture of many square miles of territory later in the 
war did not attract so much attention as the fortunes of this 


little post. When the London newspapers reached the North- 
amptonshires a few days later they found in The Times a head- 
ing in big tjrpe : " Lost British Post Regained." 

On June i8th the Brigade was relieved and marched back 
to the Henu area, whence on July 3rd they marched to Doullens 
and entrained for the north. 

Chapter XI 


'TpHE Brigade now entered on a tour of duty in the Ypres 
■*• salient, that place of so much heroism and hard fighting. 
Detraining at Godewaersvelde, the battalion proceeded to 
camps in the Dickebusch area (about three miles south-west of 
Ypres) . 

All thoughts and efforts were now turned towards the next 
offensive, which was expected about the end of the month. 
It was not altogether a comfortable period. The Germans 
shelled our camps with a good deal of regularity, and the work- 
ing parties that went up to the line each night had a rather 
bad time with high explosive and gas shells. 

" The Bosche seemed to have an inkling of the approaching 
battle," writes a Bedfordshire officer, " for he massed a greater 
amount of artillery than ever against the salient, and many of 
us remember those nightly crossings of the Ypres-Camines 
Canal, and the subsequent enforced loitering about the neigh- 
bourhood of that hell on earth, Zillebeke Lake and village. 
There were many casualties at this time, among them being 
Captain D. S. H. Keep, M.C., who insisted on accompanying 
his company on these nightly working parties, till one night, 
probably the worst we experienced, he was killed on the banks 
of Zillebeke Lake, amidst a combined shower of rain, high 
explosive and gas shells, lasting the whole of the night. So bad 
was it that the companies could not return till dawn." 

Major Sale, who was then the Fusiliers' medical officer, also 
has vivid memories of those days, and has jotted down the 
following notes : — 

" The area to which our working parties had to go, particu- 
larly round Zillebeke, was very unhealthy. It was just at this 
time that the Bosche started making use of mustard-gas shells, 
and our men were among the first to get some near Zillebeke. 

" The whole area was waterlogged, and stank of putrefaction ; 
it was a most depressing spot, and the men hated these working 
parties more than anything. They had a fair march by cross- 
country tracks to get there, the route running by Cafe Beige, 
Bedford House, Transport Farm, Zillebeke, and a trench named 
Vint Street. 


" A parody was made up in the battalions of a well-known 
popular song, as follows : — 

"I'm going back to dear old Zillebeke, 
That's the hottest place I know. 
Can't you hear the busmen calling, 

' Cafe Beige, Bedford House, Zillebeke and Viiit Street ?' 
I won't hesitate to duck my head 
When a shell is coming near. 
Oh, find me a shelter anywhere — 
Dug-out, shell-hole, I don't care. 
There's a Red Cross car awaiting there, 
In dear old Zillebeke." 

As it happened, the expected offensive did not materialize 
on July 31st, and eventually came off on August loth. 

On our part of the front (according to the plans for the earlier 
date) the 30th Division were to advance south of the Menin 
Road, take Stirling Castle (a bit of high ground east of Sanctuary 
Wood), cross the Menin Road, and go up to the edge of Glen- 
corse Wood. They were then to be leapfrogged by the 53rd 
Brigade, to which the nth Battalion Royal Fusiliers were 
attached. Later, if all had gone well, the remainder of the 54th 
Brigade were to leapfrog the 53rd Brigade and advance into 
Polygon Wood. In anticipation of success, it was said that 
one battalion had arranged a race meeting for the near future 
on the racecourse in Polygon Wood. 

A very elaborate model of all this area had been made by the 
corps in a field between Ouderdom and Poperinghe, and was 
visited by every officer and N.C.O. 

After days and nights of intense artillery duels by both sides, 
August loth and the attack came at last. 

The assaulting battalions were the Fusiliers on the right 
and the Bedfordshire Regiment on the left, and were formed 
up on a front of about 750 yards, with the right near the Hooge- 
Menin Road. 

The Northamptonshire Regiment sent a company to each of 
the assaulting battalions to " mop up," had another company 
as carrying party, and a fourth to garrison strong points. The 
Middlesex Regiment was held in reserve, two companies at 
Dickebusch, one in Ritz Trenches, and one in Chateau Wood, 
in front of Hooge. 

The objectives of the Brigade included Glencorse Wood and 
the high ground which, in an area where a few feet formed a 
prominent hill, would give observation over a good stretch of 

The assaulting battalions formed up on the tape without 
being observed by the enemy, and at zero — 4.35 a.m. — went 
over, the enemy only indulging in desultory shelling as our 
troops moved off. 

It will now be more convenient to follow the fortunes of each 
of the assaulting battalions in turn. 

On the right the FusiUers (having the 5.5th Brigade on their 
right) pushed ahead with Httle difficulty until the right com- 
pany came under heavy machine-gun fire from Inverness Copse 
and Dumbarton Lakes (in the 55th Brigade's area), and eased 
off to the left. The effect of this was that when the line of the 
final objective was reached, the right of our attack only reached 
Fitzclarence Farm, and was out of touch with the 55th Brigade. 
There was also a gap between the Fusiliers and the Bedford- 
shire Regiment on the north. 

A company of Northamptonshires attached to the Fusiliers 
(under Captain Grace, who was killed) followed the attacking 
waves, bombed all dug-outs, and took about forty prisoners, 
mostly from the south edge of Glencorse Wood. 

By 6 a.m. all the officers of the Fusilier attacking companies 
were casualties, and a heavy counter-attack was launched by 
the enemy from Inverness Copse on our right. This attack 
was preceded by hostile bombing along Jargon Trench and other 
trenches which crossed our front from the Copse to Glencorse 
Wood. As a result the Fusiliers were driven back, and, under 
orders from Brigade headquarters, took up a line about 200 
yards in front of Clapham Junction, where they were able to 
join up with the 55th Brigade. This line was held till the 
battalion was relieved by the 8th Norfolk Regiment, about 
4 a.m. on August nth. 

In the meantime the Bedfordshire Regiment had got well 
forward behind the barrage, and at 5.13 a.m. a message reached 
Brigade headquarters saying that they were on the final objec- 
tive. Three companies then attempted to consolidate, but, 
owing to marshy ground and deep mud, only isolated posts 
could be established. 

At 9.17 a.m. a message was received from Captain Driver, 
commanding the left company, to the effect that they still held 
the final objective, but the companies on their right flank were 
badly bent back (this would refer to the difficulties the Fusiliers 
were experiencing). 

Repeated enemy counter-attacks were made from Nonne 
Bosschen Wood (to the Bedfordshire Regiment's left front), but 
our artillery dealt effectively with these. More serious was the 
position in Glencorse Wood, where, owing to the Fusihers having 
been pushed back, the enemy were able to push through in 
good numbers. As a result, the Bedfordshire Regiment by mid- 
day was holding Jargon Trench, about half-way to their final 
objective, as their main fine. At dusk the enemy put a smoke 
barrage across Glencorse Wood and again counter-attacked, 
but this was beaten off by our artillery barrage and by rifle and 
machine-gun fire, and the line was handed over at 2 a.m. on 
August I ith to the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment. 

After the attack had been launched at zero, the Northampton- 
shires' strong point company (" C," under Captain Shepherd) 


pushed forward and occupied the allotted positions on the left. 
Several parties for other strong points, however, had to be 
pushed up to deal with counter-attacks on the Fusiliers' 

The 54th Machine Gun Company had two guns with each 
assaulting battalion, four to go forward to the strong points, 
and four in reserve. These guns did splendid work, especially 
those garrisoning the strong points, and there is no doubt that 
more of the enemy were killed this day by rifle and machine- 
gun fire than in any previous attack by the Brigade. The 
lessons preached during the past few months on the importance, 
of the rifle seemed to have borne fruit, and the majority of 
men who started out with ryo rounds of small arms ammunition 
returned with less than 20 rounds. 

The 54th Trench Mortar Battery had two guns with sixty 
rounds each in action in the strong points, and did excellent 
work. More ammunition was afterwards brought up, but the 
bad state of the ground prevented a big supply being carried 
forward, and the two guns were the utmost that could be kept 
in action. 

So much for a general survey of the attack. Such an opera- 
tion is necessarily best seen from many points of view, and the 
following accounts of officers who took part are well worth 

The first is from an officer of the Fusiliers, who writes : — ■ 

" On August 7th we moved up to take over the line from the 
12th Middlesex Regiment just north of Menin Road. The i8th 
Division were not allowed to use the Menin Road, but a track 
had been constructed from near ' Shrapnel Corner,' running 
north of Zillebeke and through Sanctuary Wood, joining the 
Menin Road at the commencement of the Menin Road tunnel. 

" Owing to the heavy rain and the passage of guns and limbers, 
this ' A.T.N, track,' as it was called, was in a most appalling 
state. Rations and ammunition had to be brought up from 
Canal Camp, Dickebusch, by pack train. The transport prob- 
ably had their worst experience here ; it was pitch dark and 
raining most nights, the country was full of big shell-holes half 
full of water, and if a mule once got into one, it was with the 
greatest difficulty that he could be got out again. It was not 
uncommon for the pack train to leave between 4 and 5 p.m., 
and not get back till between 7 and 8 a.m. next morning. 

" The Fusilier dispositions were : ' B ' Company (Captain 
Fuller) on the left, ' D ' (Captain Gray) on the right, ' C ' (Lieu- 
tenant Watt) in support, and ' A ' (Captain Home) in reserve. 
The forming-up tape was laid by Captain Gray and Lieutenant 
Horton on the night of the 8th, only 150 yards from the Bosche 
line. They had just returned from laying them out when an 
order came in postponing the attack for twenty-four hours. 
So, in case the tapes should be seen in daylight, they had to 


go out and take them in, and put them down again on the night 
of the 9th. 

" On the ridge about 200 yards from the south-west corner 
of Glencorse Wood was a group of about ten concrete pill- 
boxes. These stood up clear on the sky-line. For the whole 
of the afternoon of the gth our 9-inch guns attempted to knock 
this strong point to bits, but the damage done to the pill-boxes 
was practically nil. There were about a dozen derelict tanks 
laying about our front, the result of a previous unsuccessful 
attack, and corpses everywhere. 

" The barrage opened at dawn, and the men got away very 
well. They got well on into Glencorse Wood, and on the open 
ground some of ' D ' Company, including Captain Gray, got 
right up to Fitzclarence Farm. Unfortunately, the battalion 
on our right did not get on at all. Our men were caught 
by a very heavy enfilade machine-gun fire in consequence, and 
soon afterwards the Bosche came out from Inverness Copse in 
strong force and got almost in rear of ' C ' Company, our support 

" Casualties had been very heavy, particularly amongst 
officers. In ' B ' Company, Fuller was shot through the head 
trying, with only his Lewis gun sergeant. Sergeant Franklin, 
to rush a machine gun in a concrete emplacement. Horton, 
his second-in-command, was hit by a bullet through the chest 
shortly after leaving the strong point. Calthrop had been 
killed. In ' D ' Company, Gray was last seen lying in a shell- 
hole close to Fitzclarence Farm, shot through both knees and 
using his revolver over the top of the shell-hole. Watt, com- 
manding ' C ' Company, was twice wounded, but continued 
fighting until again wounded, this time mortally. In ' A ' Com- 
pany, Stovell, another plucky lad, was killed by a bomb. Ser- 
geant Bott, who had got the D.C.M. at Thiepval, and was on 
this occasion commanding a platoon, was killed at the edge 
of Glencorse Wood. Captain Hoare, of ' A ' Company, was the 
last surviving officer, and he was shortly afterwards sniped 
through the head from the direction of Glencorse Wood. 

" By this time the Fusiliers were withdrawing from their 
advanced posts, and a line was established 200 yards east of 
Clapham Junction. 

" At this stage things were critical, as we had very few men 
left to man all this line, and there were no troops in reserve 
behind us nearer than Sanctuary Wood. The FusiHers had no 
company officer left, and only one company sergeant-major — 
Burch of ' C ' Company. However, Lewis guns, and later 
machine guns, were placed to cover the gap on our right. 
Pearcy, the signalhng officer, came up from headquarters, 
which was in the Menin tunnel, with all available men — servants, 
runners, and pioneers — and a company of the Middlesex Regi- 
ment came up from Sanctuary Wood and went into the line 

just north of the Menin Road. Two platoons of the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment who were there to garrison certain strong 
points which were to have been established forward were also 
on the ridge, and Captain (now Lieutenant-Colonel) Minet, of 
the 54th Machine Gun Company, and Captain Shepherd, of the 
Gth Northamptonshire Regiment, took charge of and organized 
the line. 

" Twice the enemy formed up for counter-attacks on the 
strong point during the day, but each time they were stopped. 
During the early hours of the day, when things were critical, 
the remaining N.C.Os. of the battalion had done splendid work 
by driving out the Bosche who had come in from Inverness 
Copse, and in taking up the new line." 

The Bedfordshire Regiment's side of the show is thus described 
by Captain Driver : — 

" Just before 4 a.m. we were ready, the companies being in 
position as follows : ' B ' Company (Captain Driver) on the 
left, ' C ' Company (Captain Kingdon) on the right, ' A ' Company 
(Captain Clarke) in support, and ' D ' Company (Captain Fer- 
gusson) in reserve. Dawn broke quietly, and so well concealed 
were our men that the Bosche evidently decided that no attack 
would take place. We even watched him taking off some of 
his night forward posts, and our spirits went up. 

" The ' going ' was very bad, owing to the number of shell- 
craters, all full of water, and more or less linked up by little 
canals. The Bedfordshire Regiment had furthermore to cap- 
ture a trench with wire defences this side of Glencorse Wood, 
and then fight its way through the Wood and out the other 
side, and take up a position on the edge of Nonne Bosschen 
Wood. Never have the Bedfordshire Regiment been in better 
form. Held up by the wire of the first trench, it was an in- 
spiring sight to see the leading wave firing at the Bosche in the 
' standing ' position, while others cleared gaps in the wire, and 
then to see them rush the trench with a cheer, although machine-, 
gun bullets were flying all round. The Bedfordshire Regiment 
literally surged through the morass inside the wood, the trees 
of which had been rendered naked and mutilated by shell fire ; 
but at the highest part of the wood, and in other suitable spots, 
the Bosche was holding fortified pill-boxes. 

" It must be remembered that this was the British Army's 
first experience of pill-boxes. Without a halt the Bedfordshires 
fought their way through, using bomb and bayonet, to their 
final objective and beyond it, until they were held up by our 
own barrage, which had become stationary. 

" But it was not very long before the Bedfordshires found 
themselves in a very exposed position. The Cheshire Regiment 
on the left were not quite up in line, and on the right the Fusiliers 
had encountered a withering fire from machine guns, with the 

consequence that, having lost practically all their officers, they 
had to be content with small progress. 

" The Bosche still held Inverness Copse and the country 
between it and Glencorse Wood. However, in spite of this, 
the Bedfordshires dug in where they were, and sent some men 
to link up with the Fusiliers, with the result that, while touch 
was maintained, the Bedfordshires holding Glencorse Wood 
were forming a very nasty salient, and were subject all day to 
fire from their right flank from pill-boxes manned by deter- 
mined machine gunners and snipers. Consequently during the 
day many casualties were suffered in this way. 

" In the late afternoon it was apparent that the Bosche was 
preparing a determined counter-attack from the direction of 
Polygon Wood. But the Bedfordshires had not been idle, and 
had thoroughly consolidated their position, and received sup- 
plies of ammunition and machine guns. Also our artillery was 
warned, and when the Bosche started to deliver his counter- 
attack, he was met by a deluge of fire from both infantry and 
artillery, causing shocking casualties. Needless to say, our 
line was intact at the end. That night the Bedfordshires were 

Captain Driver, who already wore the D.S.O., was awarded 
the M.C. for this day's work. To quote the official account : 
" After gallantly leading his company in the attack, he skil- 
fully and at great personal risk consolidated his advanced posts. 
He continually visited his posts, although under constant 
enemy sniping, and directed the fire, thus harassing the enemy 
while they were endeavouring to form up for a counter-attack. 
Through his daring reconnaissances, movements of the enemy 
were noticed and severely dealt with by our artillery on his 
information. Although fired at by snipers and machine guns, 
he showed not the slightest hesitation in continuing his rounds 
from post to post, and when hit by a sniper, although his jaw 
was broken and his tongue shot through, he endeavoured to 
carry on, and only gave up when suffering from loss of blood. 
Even then he wrote a full account of the situation." 

Of splendid work by individuals that day one might go on 
telling stories to the end of this book, and again comes the 
difficult task of attempting a selection. 

Among the Fusiliers, Lieutenant G. S. Pearcy, the signalling 
officer, won a bar to the M.C. that had been awarded for his 
work at Boom Ravine. " When all company officers were 
casualties [says the official account], he took command of the 
scattered companies, and details of other battalions, and showed 
marked ability and gallantry in resisting a heavy counter- 
attack successfully." 

The following awards to other ranks of the FusiHers are also 
quoted from official accounts : — 

Private Thomas Adams, D.C.M. : " From early morning this 
stretcher-bearer carried men from the thickest part of the enemy 
barrage to the aid post. Later, at a very critical moment, 
when the attacking troops had lost all their leaders, and were 
wavering before an enemy counter-attack, by his excellent 
example and contempt for danger he succeeded in encouraging 
them to go back to the ridge they were vacating. He also 
collected various stragglers of different units, and posted them 
in groups in the line. Throughout the day, and again that 
night, he worked indefatigably in dressing and carrying back 
the wounded on his back under fire." 

Sergeant Ernest Wilson, D.C.M. : " When all the company 
officers had become casualties, he collected his men together 
and assisted to garrison a very important strong point, and 
succeeded in beating off repeated German counter-attacks. 
Later, when surrounded and overwhelmed by great numbers, 
he and his garrison were driven from their positions, where- 
upon he ralhed his men, attached them to another unit, and 
helped to recapture the position." 

Sergeant Henry Berry, D.C.M. : " When all his officers had 
become casualties, he took charge of his company. Although 
wounded, he organized the defence of the line, and successfully 
destroyed repeated enemy counter-attacks. When the troops 
on his left were dislodged temporarily from their position during 
the night, he organized and led part of the counter-attack 
which regained the position." 

Sergeant (Acting Company Sergeant-Major) W. T. Burch, 
D.C.M. : " When all company officers had become casualties, 
he rallied the men at a critical moment, and then reorganized 
the line, garrisoning a strong point of vital importance. By 
careful judgment in placing Lewis guns, he desti-oyed German 
infantry who were trying to form for an attack. During the 
night he and his garrison beat off a very determined counter- 

Corporal H. Hallett and Lance-Corporal T. Wright were also 
awarded the D.C.M. for skilful handling of their men when 
officers had become casualties, and for similar good work the 
M.M. was awarded to Sergeant G. H. Whittington and Lance- 
Corporal W. Rickards. 

Private Arthur Jakes, M.M., had an exciting time. Cut off 
and surrounded by the enemy, he remained in a shell-hole a 
long way in front of our position, and continued to snipe the 
enemy throughout the day. After dark he made fiis way back 
across trenches full of Germans, and safely rejoined his battalion. 

Among officers of the Bedfordshire Regiment, Captain A. J. 
Colley was awarded a bar to his M.C. " When the troops on 
the right began to retire, the effect of which would probably 
have passed along the whole front line, he rushed forward, 
assisted to collect the retiring men, moved them forward again. 


re-established them in a fire position, and so prevented what 
might have been a great disaster." 

The M.C. was also awarded to Captain J. A. Vlasto, medical 
officer to the same battalion, and Lieutenant F. Corner, the 

Captain Vlasto " attended to over 300 cases under extremely 
heavy shell and rifle fire. During a gas and smoke cloud he 
worked ceaselessly in the firing line." 

The award to Lieutenant Corner was for work during the 
days and nights preceding the actual attack. " On August 6th 
the enemy suddenly opened a very heavy shell fire on ten horse- 
men and wagons, with two days' rations for the battaUon. 
When the whole was in danger of being destroyed, he went 
through the heavy shelling, and by his cool courage saved men. 
horses, and rations. He was very badly shaken by shell fire. 
On the night of August 8th-9th the enemy barraged the front, 
support, and rear lines for some hours. He made a personal 
reconnaissance of the route, and was able to guide the rations 
through to the battahon." 

Good work was done by Corporal Ernest Jones (orderly to 
Captain Vlasto), who was awarded the M.M. in the following 
circumstances : " He collected during the day 250 cases of 
wounded, and four times in succession went through an ex- 
tremely heavy artillery barrage to bring them in. When he 
was clearing a derelict tank of wounded who were sheltering 
there, the enemy opened heavy artillery fire, killing and wound- 
ing several, and almost severing one man's arm. Corporal 
Jones held the artery under heavy fire until the wound was 
dressed, thus .saving the man's life. When Captain Vlasto was 
exhausted, Corporal Jones carried on, and, although suffering 
from gas, repeatedly journeyed through Glencorse Wood to the 
front line till all the wounded had been cleared." 

Among other awards made to the Bedfordshire Regiment 
were the following : — 

Sergeant W. Peck, D.C.M. : " An enemy machine gun was 
seriously holding up a platoon. He rushed the gun alone, 
killed the gunner, and then, jumping on the emplacement, 
bombed the rest of the team. This act of gallantry enabled 
the attack to be carried to a successful conclusion." 

Lance-Corporal G. H. Fitzgerald, M.M. : " Rushed forward 
and bombed out of action a machine gun which was causing 
us casualties. The gun was afterwards turned upon the enemy 
by the Machine Gun Company." 

Lance-Corporal F. C. Spring, M.M. : " The wires being fre- 
quently broken by the enemy's barrage, he asked permission 
to try to establish visual signalling. This entailed his going 
to the enemy's side of the ridge. He went there through the 



heavy barrage and machine-gun fire, and established communi- 
cation. He was soon spotted by snipers, and continually shot 
at, but stuck to his post." 

The Northamptonshire's medical officer. Captain W. B. 
Postlethwaite, was awarded the M.C. for gallant work under 
fire, and other awards in the same battalion included : — 

Lance-Corporal J. F. Norris (already wearing the M.M. and 
bar, and now awarded the D.C.M.) : " This N.C.O., with his 
Lewis-gun team, formed part of a ' mopping-up ' company to 
the Fusiliers. After clearing dug-outs he joined the attacking 
force. He located and put out of action two enemy machine 
guns which were holding up the advance. Later a third machine 
gun was located by one of our aeroplanes, which fired tracer 
bullets at it. The position was then picked up by this N.C.O., 
and the gun team was put out of action." 

The D.C.M. was also awarded to Privates F. L. Smith and 
F. Farrar. " These two Lewis gunners noticed a German 
machine gun, and with no other assistance made a daring attack. 
Private Farrar rushed the position and killed the two gunners, 
while Private Smith engaged the gun with his Lewis gun, and 
then rushed forward, killed one of the enemy, wounded another, 
and took five others prisoners." 

Three Middlesex officers were awarded the M.C. : — 

2nd-Lieutenant E. D. Alcock " was in command of a carrying 
company. With great courage and skill he led his men through 
a heavy barrage, carrying 80,000 rounds of small arms ammuni- 
tion from the dump at Zillebeke to the vicinity of the front line. 
During the latter part of the journey the company was subjected 
to hostile machine-gun fire, in addition to being shelled. Although 
30 per cent, of his men became casualties, he delivered the whole 
of the ammunition." 

2nd-Lieutenant G. A. Bond " brought rations to the front 
line each night on pack animals, over very difficult country 
which was shelled almost continually. In addition, he brought 
up in the same way all the material for the forward Brigade 
dump for the attack on August loth. In spite of casualties 
to animals, and several stampedes caused by shells dropping 
amongst the train, he never failed to deliver the whole of the 

The third M.C. and some awards for other ranks were won 
during a minor operation on August 15th and i6th, when this 
battalion (together with the Bedfordshire Regiment) was tem- 
porarily attached to the 53rd Infantry Brigade. 

2nd-Lieutenant K. G. Calvert " was in charge of headquarters' 
company on August i6th in the attack against Westhoek Ridge, 
and was ordered to bring his men across from Stirling Castle 
to the Menin Road tunnel. There was very heavy shelling 
going on, and a certain amount of panic and confusion resulted. 
2nd-Lieutenant Calvert at once grasped the situation, and by 


able handling of his men brought them quickly and success- 
fully through to their destination, by getting them down into 
shell-holes and then choosing with great coolness the right 
moments to push forward again." 

Captain (now Lieutenant-Colonel) E. C. T. Minet, of the 
54th Machine Gun Company, was awarded the D.S.O. for his 
work on August loth. " When it became apparent that the 
right of the Brigade was outflanked and driven back, he took 
charge of all troops in the vicinity, and established a defensive 
flank at a most critical moment. Throughout the day he was 
in the front line, passing from gun to gun, controlling the fire 
and encouraging all ranks." 

A D.C.M. went to Sergeant J. Goodall, of the Machine Gun 
Company. " He assisted in capturing a concrete machine-gun 
emplacement, with ten prisoners and a machine gun. He im- 
mediately manned this gun and used it against the enemy." 

A similar award went to Private L. Lewis, of the Machine 
Gun Company. " His gun was destroyed by shell fire, and he 
immediately returned through the barrage and obtained another. 
He then went forward again alone, found his team, brought his 
gun into action, and maintained his position until seriously 

On leaving the Glencorse Wood sector the Brigade was for 
a time in the Buysscheure and Wormhoudt areas (north of 
St. Omer), engaged in training, and afterwards moved up to 
the St. Janter Biezen area and Tunnelling Camp (near Poper- 
inghe), with a view to taking part in operations in front of 

" Here, on September 15th and i6th [writes a Middlesex 
officer], Thiepval and Schwaben Redoubt were .celebrated by 
inter-battalion raids at midnight across ploughed fields. 

" About the first or second week in October the officers were 
interviewed by Sir Ivor Maxse, who told us about the forth- 
coming attack for the Westroosebeke Ridge. I believe it was 
on this occasion that he said : ' Gentlemen, I've arranged a 
very nice battle for you, with lots of Huns to kill !' 

" On October 15th we crossed No. 4 bridge over the canal 
[just north of Ypres], and went on by duck-boards to Cane 
Trench, near Pilkem, where we spent the night in bivouacs. 
We were shelled occasionally through the night, and suffered a 
few casualties. We left next day and went forward. Battalion 
headquarters was about 800 yards west of the church in Poel- 
capelle, and the line ran north and south through the church. 

" This was the first occasion on which an American doctor 
went into the line with us. This was Lieutenant Anderson, 
and he was kept busy with the 96 casualties we had by the 
time we reached the front line. 

" The Hun was very nervous about being attacked, and from 
4 a.m. on the 17th until daybreak put a barrage down every 

I 2 


hour, each lasting fifteen minutes. At 6 a.m. he blew up a 
pill-box about fifty yards in front of us, and' we sent a patrol 
out to see what was there. Subsequent information showed 
that there was a garrison of one officer and seven men with two 
machine guns. 

" On hearing this. Brigade inquired how we came by this 
information, and tiiat is rather a humorous story in itself. A 
very new gunner officer had been sent up to find our head- 
quarters, and when about 500 yards in front of the same 
thought it time to inquire his way. He asked someone where 
headquarters was, and received the usual intelligent answer, 
' Over there ! ' accompanied by a nod of the head. 

" He went on, followed by his batman, who was armed with 
a stick, passed beyond the front line, and approached the pill- 
box indicated. The occupants, thinking he had come to sur- 
render, came out to welcome him in, and proved to be the 
aforementioned garrison. The German officer advanced to 
meet him, and each, thinking the other wanted to surrender, 
placed a hand on the other one's shoulder, and signalled in which 
direction to go. 

" Meanwhile the batman, taking in the situation, slipped into 
a pill-box and found an old Mauser rifle, with which he covered 
the Huns. Neither side could fire because both officers were 
in the line of fire. Both then backed away from each other 
and turned and ran to their own lines." 

The 531 d Brigade was due to attack on the 22nd, and the 
54th had orders to stand by in support, two companies of the 
Middlesex Regiment, under Major Warr, being sent up to Cane 
Trench as counter-attack companies. 

However, the whole battalion was pushed into the line again 
that night, and took over a line east of Poelcapelle and astride 
of the Spriet Road. Many S.O.Ss. were sent up during the night, 
and were followed by barrage and counter-barrage, and a few 
prisoners of the German 76th Regiment were captured. 

The expected attack did not take place, and after being 
withdrawn to " Dirty Bucket Camp " (a very appropriate 
name for a very uncomfortable place), the Brigade afterwards 
went on to " P " area (Woesten), where conditions were even 

It was about this time (on October 22nd, to be exact) that 
Brigadier-General L. de V. Sadleir-Jackson took over the com- 
mand of the Brigade, and, as events proved, he was to lead us 
through the rest of the war, except for an unlucky absence 
through a wound in the closing months. 

Now we moved into the Houthulst Forest sector, and that 
health resort deserves a chapter to itself. 

Chapter XII 


■flT'HENEVER two or three officers of the. Brigade were 
** gathered together, and we discussed this book, someone 
was sure to say, " Put in a bad word for Houthulst Forest." 

And so man}'- bad words were volunteered that if they were 
printed here the book would be suppressed in the interests of 
our national morals. 

As a matter of fact, anyone can make a Houthulst Forest of 
his own. It would make a nice war souvenir. Take a low- 
l3dng swamp, crossed by streams which wander wherever they 
like and never follow the same course two days running, and 
dot a few trees over the area. Everything must be so flat that 
the 20 contour, which is the highest ground, seems almost like 
a mountain range. 

That is the- raw material. Then you shell the place for 
three years, till land and water are thoroughly mixed up, and 
the few trees left standing are splintered skeletons. Every- 
thing is now ready. You must walk some 8,000 yards across 
this area in pitch darkness, with enemy shells constantly burst- 
ing around, and shell-holes full of water or deep mud awaiting 
you if you step off a W'Ooden track which is constantly being 
blown to pieces or floating away. Now go ahead and enjoy 
yourself, and have a real good time. 

I forgot to mention that when you make your little pleasure 
trip across the area you must first load yourself with all the 
kit and stores that you can possibly carry, and then get a fellow 
pleasure seeker to pile a few pounds more on top.* 

The forest lies north of Ypres, and the Brigade had to hold 
a line on the far side of the area of which I have just given an 
all too rosy picture. Just why we wanted to get out in front 
of it, and deny the Germans access to it, was tlie sort of thing 
weary officers and men, trudging up to the front line, could 
never understand. It all seemed an unnecessary piece of good 
nature on our part to warn him so carefully away from a spot 
where he would certainly get his feet quite wet. . 

The front line was a particularly comfortable place, and 
those on duty there used to crouch in mud and water and 
wonder whether it was influence or merit, or just downright 
hard luck, that got them the job. It consisted of shell-holes, 
with breastworks that used to slide back into the holes, for no 
trenches could be dug in the waterlogged ground. Behind the 
line were a few captured pill-boxes, which served as company 



and battalion headquarters ; but as the Germans had the posi- 
tion of these to an inch, they came in for a good deal of artillery 

The Germans occupied a mountain range at least ten feet high 
in front of us, and naturally elected to keep out of the wet, 
only sending down an outpost line at night. And wc sat in 
our puddles and wondered whether it would be against the 
Hague Convention and all the other rules for mitigating the 
horrors of war if, one dark night, we slipped quietly away, 
and left the Germans our puddles to sit in for a change. 

Even the pill-boxes, to which men out in front looked back 
as resorts of almost sinful luxury, were not the first class hotels 
an Englishman visiting the Continent might desire or expect, 
for they were at least four or six inches deep in a nasty smelling 
essence of distilled German. Pump and drain as you might, 
the low level and the cracked foundations allowed the water 
to have the better of you. 

Brigade headquarters were situated in a luxurious and com- 
fortable pill-box some 7,500 yards from the front line. The 
way up was along a track of duck-boards which wound among 
the shell-holes, and often ended abruptly in a new shell-hole 
if enemy artillery had been busy. Smashing up our duck- 
board track was the chief German industry at this part of the 
Une. This introduced fresh complications in the ever-engrossing 
game of finding your way up in the dark. When the track 
suddenly came to an end, and you stepped off into deep mud 
to search for the next piece, it was highly probable that, after 
splashing round in the dark, you would at last find another bit 
of duck-board, begin to tramp wearily and warily along it, 
only to discover that you had j;ot back to the old track and 
were retracing your steps. That counted several points to the 
German, for it was his laugh, and you began again. 

As there are women and children present, I can't tell you 
half the pet names we had for those miles of duck-boards. 

Since the front line could not be visited by day, the little 
garrisons in outlying shell-holes were booked for a long spell 
in the wet when they had once reached their positions. It 
was about this time that the real value of the steel helmet was 
discovered, for it was found to make an excellent seat in the 

Except during frost, the state of the ground made any really 
serious attack with numbers an impossibility for either side at 
this time of year. The Germans established this fact by careful 
experiment. On a night of November they made an attack 
on a Lewis-gun post and a part of the French line on our left. 
The Germans came on well until their two lines were held up 
by mud and water. Then Private M. Bristowe, of the Bedford- 
shire Regiment, managed to get his gun team out into the open, 


and enfiladed the lines while they were stuck in the mud. And 
so that attack ended. 

General Sadleir- Jackson has supplied the following notes 
relating to these days, which will interest fellow-sufferers : — 

" The number of guns at the disposal of the Brigade was very 
considerable on paper, but a personal visit disillusioned one as 
to the weight of metal that could be thrown to meet any emerr 
gency. Many were found sitting on their tails, like plaintive 
and patient sea-lions, in the beds of the Broombeck and Steen- 
beck, having been washed away during the night. 

" Though we were told that we had just gained a most im- 
portant victory [Passchendaele Ridge] , and that we were masters 
of the air, the sea, and the land, one could not help being a 
little sceptical when being pursued down the duck-boards by 
a specially attentive German plane, which had no difficulty in 
thoroughly terrifying one with its machine gun, and then 
quickly disappearing. 

" One grey cold winter morning I staggered up the duck- 
boards with Colonel [then Major] Percival, who was acting 
Brigade-Major at the moment, and on arriving near a certain 
well-known spot called ' Faldherbe cross-road ' [known to the 
men as ' Fed-up cross-road '], the early morning German plane 
came out to spy out the nakedness of the land. Out of sheer 
joie de vivre he sailed over battalion and company headquarters 
in turn, giving each a nice cheerful burst. I remember crouch- 
ing under an extremely prickly and very thin hedge, watching 
the pilot amusing himself, and cursing inwardly that no one 
snugly sheltered in pill-boxes condescended even to notice his 
presence. This sector was stiff with Vickers and Lewis guns, 
and the plane was only 500 feet up, but the attractions of early 
morning tea far outweighed those of early morning fighting. 

" The bad weather conditions and the discomforts of the 
front line involved heavy casualties from trench feet, as many 
as 100 per battalion occurring after a tour of duty in the shell- 

" This brought about the institution of the famous ' Pedi- 
curia ' establishments. I fear my Staff Captain, who was in- 
defatigable in his efforts to make the organization a success, 
will go down to his grave with ' Pedicuria ' inscribed on his 
heart. Scientifically, I believe there is a considerable difference 
of opinion as to the actual value of this treatment. Be this as 
it may, imagination plays the strongest part in our Uves, and 
' Pedicuria ' became not only popular, but the rage, and trench 
feet gradually disappeared. 

" The system arranged that the man should march up in 
his boots, change into dry socks and waders, then after a tour 
of twenty-four hours undergo ' Pedicuria ' treatment at platoon 
headquarters, change into dry socks and waders in support, 
and finally march down in his boots. But this was not always 

a success. Barbed wire cut the waders, and men's feet began 
to swell so that they could not get their boots on, and conse- 
quently had to walk out five miles in waders. 

" One of the dangers of walking out in waders wtvs that if 
you fell off the duck-boards into a shell-hole, you stood a good 
chance of being drowned, as all equipment had to be pulled off 
before you could be dragged out. Even if not drowned, you 
rapidly assumed the colour of a boiled lobster, as all the water 
in the shell-holes was strongly impregnated with Yellow Cross gas. 

" I recollect passing Cinq Chemins, where there was a very 
large shell-hole, and noticed a crowd of about ten people howling 
with laughter. A wretched platoon commander had fallen into 
the shell-hole, and was just keeping his head above water with 
difficulty by hanging on to the sides. Every few minutes he 
went under, and a spout like that from a whale shot up as he 
came to the top spluttering. No one was interested in saving 
the wretched officer ; all were enormously amused. It was, as 
a matter of fact, an exceptionally dangerous spot to loiter in, 
but this was completely forgotten in the amusement afforded 
by the unfortunate officer. Such is the British soldier, and his 
phlegm makes the world marvel. 

" ' Pedicuria ' now being established, the next thing to do 
was to wire the front, approximately a distance of about 2,500 
yards, with practically no landmarks, the enemy posts being 
about 50 to 100 yards distant. With the assistance of the whole 
of the 55th Brigade and every available man of the 54th, carry- 
ing parties 2,500 strong were organized. I would like here to 
bear tribute to the good work of Captain Davies, 79th Company 
R.E. [though I know he will curse me to his dying day for my 
insistence upon the most minute attention to detail], who 
successfully organized all the dumps. The ca/rying parties, with- 
out exception, arrived at their destinations, and wiring parties, 
composed of two specially trained battalions, the Middlesex and 
the Bedfordshires, practically completed the task on one of the 
dirtiest and blackest winter nights one can imagine. The work 
was finally completed by the Northamptonshire Regiment and 
the Fusiliers on the following night. 

" Having got our ' Pedicuria ' establishments working, im- 
proved the conditions of existence, and strengthened our de- 
fences, we now turned our minds towards offensive patrols 
against the enemy, as we were not satisfied that we had attained 
the necessary moral superiority over his snipers and machine 
gunners to make life comfortable. A great controversy had 
arisen over the loss of a place called Turenne Crossing, and the 
concensus of opinion was strongly in favour of its recapture, 
the chief arguments advanced being that many of the pill- 
boxes in the piquet and support lines were being rendered un- 
inhabitable owing to machine-gun fire from the place. One 
specially referred to was Egypt House. 

" The long walk up the duck-boards, the fact that the front 
line, and to a smaller degree battalion headquarters, could only 
be visited at night, which was frequently dark and nearly 
always wet, prevented frequent visits from the staffs of higher 
formations. This probably led to false impressions regarding 
the value of Turenne Crossing. To prove that it was of no great 
value to the enemy, battalions and afterwards advanced Brigade 
headquarters were established in Egypt House, which was im- 
pregnable even to 8-inchers, and the Crossing itself was in a 

" There was some difference of opinion as to the actual dis- 
tance between the Crossing and Egypt House, and accordingly 
Major Shepherd personally measured it one night with a tape. 
It was not a job to be taken up with enthusiasm — rather a 
' windy ' affair, in fact — for there was always the chance that 
the Germans would resent a British officer wandering around 
with a tape in an area to which they laid claim. At last Major 
Shepherd arrived safely back at Egypt House with a very 
muddy tangle of tape, representing the actual distance, which 
he proceeded to measure off on a yard stick. His story that he 
had to elbow out of the way the Germans who crowded round 
out of curiosity while he was measuring in their area is not 
believed in the best circles." 

It was now considered that the night positions of German 
machine guns could be very well tackled by our Stokes mortars ; 
but as retaliation was always possible, the gunners used to retire 
as soon as they had fired a burst. 

The only drawback was the sodden state of the ground, 
which fnade it very difficult to get a solid base for the bed- 
plate of the mortars. The tops of the pill- boxes in which com- 
panies had their headquarters had an irresistible attraction for 
the trench mortar officers, but as this brought down a prompt 
"hate" from German artillery, the idea caused constant friction 
between the Tock Emma people and the company officers. 
One's sympathy was rather divided. The trench mortars had 
to silence the machine guns, and company headquarters alone 
afforded a satisfactory site for the mortars. On the other hand, 
the company officers had to live, or attempt to live, through the 
" hate " that would come down after the trench mortars had 
done their little stunt and cleared off. But no one doubted the 
enthusiasm of the trench mortar people, and they were always 
most optimistic after they had done a shoot. According to 
their reports, all the machine guns and gunners in the German 
Army must have been seen flying through the air at one time 
and another during this period, and shouts and screams were 
always reported by observers after each burst. 

" To show how extremely difficult it was in reality to mark 
down German machine- guns [says General Sadleir- Jackson], 

the following account of preparation for a raid bears on the 
point : — 

" The intelligence ofificer of the 12th Middlesex Regiment was 
wounded on patrol, and it was decided that the offending 
machine gun should be dealt with next night. The position 
was absolutely certain. A preliminary reconnaissance to guard 
against wire or advanced snipers was arranged. I arrived at 
II p.m. at Egypt House to meet O.C. raid, and all details were 
duly gone over. When I finally inquired whether all was clear 
and understood, O.C. raid remarked : ' Oh yes, the arrange- 
ments are excellent, but we have only just come from where 
the gun is supposed to be, and there is no gun !' In point of 
fact the gun was a full 400 yards farther away. 

" A few nights previously I had occasion to visit the front 
line with Captain Knight, my Stokes mortar ofificer. Un- 
fortunately, the night was inky dark, and raining like a 
deluge. Captain Knight, though an excellent cricketer, was 
very short-sighted, and I fear that on this occasion his Chinese 
Mandarin spectacles became like wet window-panes, and of 
scanty use. This was very unfortunate, as it entailed his 
missing the kinks in the duck-boards every hundred yards, 
with a consequent toss into a shell-hole. Not unnaturally our 
progress was slow, but a complete stop had to be made when I 
missed the thing and went clean into a shell-hole up to my 
middle, thus filling my waders and rendering myself quite 
immobile. In fact, I was stuck so fast that Captain Knight 
had to lift me out of the waders, which we scraped out after- 
wards. Our walk, normally of two hours, took us four and a 
half hours." 

While the Fusiliers were going into line for one of their tours 
of duty. Captain O. C. Whiteman, who had taken over the duties 
of adjutant on Captain Cumberlege being appointed Brigade 
Major, was killed. He was going up Hunter Street, about ten 
minutes in advance of the battalion, with Major Ford, second- 
in-command, and a runner. The Bosches were shelling our 
particular spot in the track, sending over about one shell a 
minute from a 4-2 howitzer. When Major Ford and Captain 
Whiteman got within thirty yards of this spot, they reached a 
concrete pill-box, and decided to remain behind it until the 
next shell came, and then to double across the shelled area. 
Unfortunately, the next shell landed just over the pill-box 
almost on top of them, killing Whiteman and wounding the 
runner, Fletcher. 

" Whiteman [writes a fellow-ofificer] was one of the oflScers 
who originally came to France with the nth Royal Fusiliers. 
He was a very smart adjutant, and another of the cheery ones — 
a very witty fellow, and an asset to any mess." 

The Brigade commander's habit of wandering about the line, 
especially in unhealthy spots, led to some g,musing encounters. 


He had visited a headtjuarters near the front line, and induced 
a rather reluctant officer to accompany him on a somewhat 
dangerous tour. The tour was safely completed, and it was 
thought that he had gone back, but suddenly his unmistakable 
voice was heard again outside the headquarters, and a voice 
from inside, in a loud wliisper that he could not possibly miss, 
asked anxiously : " Is that the old — — back again ? " 

That is a story the General likes to tell against himself. 
Another of his favourites concerns a certain company sergeant- 
major, who, when he visited Panama House during a rather 
lively "strafe," said, "We don't want no dead Brigadiers 
around our pill-box," and threw him inside. 

There was, as a matter of fact, a good deal of excitement at 
Panama House that day, for the Germans, who had been turned 
out of the place once, were showing signs of wanting it back 
again. What happened is best told by the General himself : — 

" Major Percival and I, on reaching Faldherbe cross-road, 
en route for Ajax House, battalion headquarters, thought good 
to visit the company headquarters first, as a certain amount 
of artillery activity was making itself apparent. I would remark 
that this residence boasted about six square feet of standing- 
room. A few minutes after our arrival it was perfectly obvious 
that great things were afoot. Ominous orders were being issued 
by the company commander, and his servant actually ceased 
making tea and commenced to load his revolver. There was 
great activity amongst the Vickers gunners, who formed part 
of the defence, and much firing, mostly in the opposite direction 
from that from which the attack was expected. 

" An exhausted runner arrived and stated that the Germans 
were coming down the road eight deep, hundreds had been 
slaughtered, the platoon was still holding its ground, but six 
more Lewis guns were required to deal adequately with the 

" About this moment, from the entrance to the pill-box, ex- 
clamations of great excitement began to arise. These were 
eventually traced to the Vickers gunners, who discovered they 
had no water in their casing, and no more belts of ammunition. 
The company sergeant-major apparently considered that the 
moment had arrived when some decisive action was necessary, 
and proceeded to emerge from the bunk at the back of the 
pill-box. Six other human beings had previously emerged. 
He expressed himself somewhat trenchantly and to the point, 
and I regret to say that I fell under the ban of his displeasure. 
' We don't want no dead Brigadiers round our pill-box !' was 
the admonition I received, and with this I found myself hurled 
back into the struggling mass of humanity. 

" In about twenty minutes' time, having collected Major 
Colley, the battalion commander, we visited the scene of the 
contest. The platoon commander, revolver in hand, first pull- 


off already gone, embraced me and inquired whether he was to 
be court-martialled for sending up an S.O.S. The total pick-up 
was one dead German !" 

As already mentioned, our front line consisted of a line of out- 
posts in shell-holes, and the ground had been so battered and 
pulped by artillery and water that it was sometimes rather 
difficult to say where our area left off and the Germans' began. 
This led to some awkward moments, as it was always possible 
to wander into the German lines by mistake. One of our wiring 
parties, put out to do a night job, found next morning that they 
had carefully wired in a German post instead of our own. The 
Germans appear to have sat quiet through the whole proceedings, 
probably only too glad to have the work done for them. 

But that wiring party was not half so disgusted as a certain 
German sergeant-major who came striding into our lines one 
night, and was very surprised at being taken prisoner. He was 
off on leave, and had taken the wrong turning. 

These geographical difficulties lent a quite unnecessary excite- 
ment to front-line work. It would, for instance, be difficult to 
improve on the official account of the brisk few minutes in which 
Private T. Wright, of the Fusiliers, won the M.M. : — 

" In the Houthulst Forest sector, on the night of Novem- 
ber 24th-25th, 191 7, he was accompanying his platoon officer, 
who was visiting his front line posts, when an enemy patrol was 
seen approaching. The officer and Private Wright, who were 
in No Man's Land at the time, allowed the patrol to get close 
to the post, and then placed themselves between the patrol 
and the enemy's lines, and called upon the patrol to surrender. 

" The patrol, consisting of an officer and a corporal, attempted 
to get away, but were prevented from doing so by Private 
Wright, who shot the German officer in the thigh, and then 
knocked down the corporal, who offered considerable resistance, 
and moreover was a strong opponent, standing at least six feet 
one inch in height, and strongly built. The two were made 
prisoners, and valuable documents and other information was 
obtained from them." 

And there is a certain battalion transport officer who nearly 
delivered the rations and rum to the Germans one night. In 
his more cheery moments he looks back on the episode with 
some pride, and calls it " The great cavalry break-through." 
But he'd better tell the story himself : — 

" It was in November, 191 7, and the Brigade was amusing 
itself imitating submarines opposite Houthulst Forest. It was 
decided that rations should be taken up as close to the line as 
possible, owing to the awful state of the ground, and Egypt 
House was decided upon as the spot where I should dump the 
bully and other luxuries. 

" By the time we had reached the charming old-world village 
of Koekuit [ex-mud-wallowers of the Brigade will remember it] 


it was as black as — well, as black as a dirty night in the Salient — 
and on that account 1 missed the turning to the right. 

" I strode cheerfully on, with my mules all marching strictly 
to attention behind me, till at last I remarked to my sergeant 
that we seemed to be getting rather close to the Very hghts. 
He agreed heartily, and we called a halt. Spotting a pill-box 
a little to my right-rear, I decided to drop in for a drink and 

" I got off the track and struck across country for the pill- 
box, and had got about half-way when suddenly four heads 
popped up out of the ground, and someone wanted to know 
all about it. I tried to explain, and asked who they were, 
and what they were doing. They said that they were ' B ' 
C"x)mpany, holding the line, and their officer was in the pill-box. 
I crawled in there, and found that the war had taken a nasty 
turn, for my mules with the rations and rum were some 150 
yards out in No Man's Land. A little farther and we should 
have handed them over to Jerry. 

" I ran out, and with a very quiet ' About turn !' made those 
mules come back on tip-toes, and so the British cavalry didn't 
break through after all." 

The Brigade had the good fortune to be out of the line at 
Christmas-time, resting and training in the comparative peace 
and goodwill of the Haringhe area. 

Here it was that the Brigade cinema, which had been bought 
out of canteen funds, gave its first show on the night of Decem- 
ber 1 8th. Two nights later the " Vin Blongs," the Brigade 
concert party, * also gave its first show. Unfortunately, this 
was followed by disaster. Soon after it was finished a fire broke 
out in the hut, and within half an hour piano, stage, costumes, 
etc., were a heap of ashes. However, the show was set going 
again three days later, with borrowed costumes and scenery 
composed of blankets, and for over a year the " Vin Blongs " 
remained a welcome feature of leisure moments out of the line. 

The year ended on a note of tragedy. On December 31st a 
trench-mortar demonstration was being held when a shell went 
off prematurely, causing all the remaining ammunition by the 
gun to explode. About seven were killed and six wounded, 
including Major Podmore, commanding the 12th Middlesex 
Regiment, killed, and Major Harrison, his second-in-command, 

On January loth the Brigade was again in the line, but was 
out again by the end of the month, and on February yth began 
its move to the south, where it was destined to take part in the 
hard fighting of the last German offensive. 

Chapter XIII 


T^HE move in February, 1918, was from Farthest North to 
•^ Farthest South, orders being for the Brigade, together with the 
rest of the Division, to join the Fifth Army on the extreme right 
of the British Hne. This was a part of the plan for reinforcing 
our front on the sector in which, as Sir Douglas Haig rightly 
anticipated, the Germans were to make their last great effort 
of the war. 

No one was sorry to leave the north. Whatever atmosphere 
of heroism or romance may cling to the Ypres salient, those 
whose daily task it was to build up its traditions were too close 
to the picture to appreciate its beauty, and for sheer discomfort 
and unhealthiness they will give full marks to the Houthulst 
Forest sector. 

The move was completed on February loth, when the Brigade 
found itself south of St. Quentin, in the Noyon area. Brigade 
headquarters were in the Chateau at Morlincourt, and the bat- 
talions were billeted around — the Fusiliers at Behericourt, the 
Bedfordshire Regiment in Salency, and the Northamptonshire 
Regiment in Morlincourt. The Middlesex Regiment was in 
Noyon for one night, and on the nth moved to Muirancourt. 

A glance at the map will show that, as in the British offensive 
on the Somme in 19 16, the 54th Brigade was nearly on the 
extreme right of the British line. The Fifth Army joined up 
with the French just south of Barisis, in the Forest of St. Gobain, 
less than twenty miles from where the Brigade had now arrived, 
and from where it was thrown into the line a few weeks later to 
play its part in stemming the German onrush. As it was fully 
realized, at any rate in the higher commands, that the Germans 
would make their great offensive at this point, with a view to 
breaking through between the French and the British Armies, 
and rolling up our line in a great sweep on Amiens, the Brigade 
could congratulate itself on being at the post of honour and 

The enemy promptly greeted its arrival. An air raid was 
made over its billeting area on the evening of February nth, 
the Bedfordshire Regiment losing ten killed and eight wounded, 
a bomb falling on a barn in which a platoon was sheltered, 
and another falling within 150 yards of the Chateau where 
Brigade headquarters were situated. 

On the following day, February 12th, happy associations of 
over three years' standing were broken up by the departure 



of the 1 2th Middlesex Regiment. The reorganization of Brigades 
on a three-battalion basis meant that in each Brigade the junior 
battalion (reckoned by its old regimental number) must be 
struck off. Service battalions were necessarily temporary units 
— for the duration of the war or less, as required — but they had 
built up for themselves traditions and an esprit de corps of which 
every officer and man was rightly proud, and it was a sad 
moment for the 12th " Die-hards " and for their comrades in 
the Brigade when they ceased to exist. A number of officers 
and other ranks remained with the Brigade to reinforce the 
remaining battalions, drafts were sent to other units, and the 
rest of the battalion went to form the i8th Entrenching Battalion. 

The scheme of defence in this sector involved the distribution 
of troops in depth, and three defensive belts were constructed, 
the three remaining battalions of the Brigade taking their part 
in the necessary digging, during the latter days of February. 
Finally, on February 27th, the Brigade moved up to Caillouel 
as Corps Reserve, or counter-attack Brigade, less the Bed- 
fordshires, who were sent forward to Rouez, just west of the 
Canal Junction at Tergnier, to carry on further work in the 
battle zone. 

There was little more to be done now but to wait for the 
German onset. Training, with special attention to counter- 
attack formation, was carried on almost daily, working parties 
were still frequent, and there was constant reconnaissance of 
the battle zone. Of all these activities the Germans took little 
notice, and there was an almost uncanny silence over the whole 
front. Caillouel itself was a pleasant village, and everyone had 
pleasant billets — the last little bit of comfort the Brigade was 
to have for many a long day of hard fighting. Competitions 
of every kind were organized to make the training more in- 
teresting, and there was much spectacular night firing by Lewis 
guns with the aid of Very lights. 

In such spare time as there was battalions organized enter- 
tainments for the men and dinners for the officers, and by the 
igth all had fully recovered from their hard times in the salient, 
and were ready for anything. 

So the eventful day drew near. There were many " windy " 
rumours on and around March i8th, and on March 20th came 
orders to stand to, ready to move. 

It was still dark on the morning of March 21st when a terrific 
German bombardment began — " the most terrific roar of guns 
we have ever heard," is the verdict of surviving members of 
the Brigade, all connoisseurs of bombardments by this time. 
The great push had started, and along the whole of our front 
gas and high-explosive shells from every variety of gun and 
trench mortars were being hurled over. 

Everyone realized that the great ordeal for which they had 
been training and planning for weeks was upon them. 


It had been the custom during the past week for a lorry to 
report at 9.30 every morning at Rouez to take officers of the 
Bedfordshire Regiment to reconnoitre the hne. Punctually at 
9.30 that morning the lorry driver reported to Colonel Percival 
for orders. The lorry came in very useful, as it was put at the 
disposal of Captain Fergusson, the Brigade amusements officer, 
who had been " showing " at Rouez Camp the previous night, 
and had all his pierrot kit and cinema there, with no means of 
getting it away. But for this lorry the kit and cinema would 
probably have been lost. 

The " Vin Blongs " got back safely to Caillouel, and there 
began their grand trek to Noyon. One of the party found a 
perambulator, another a wheelbarrow, and so they journeyed 
along the Noyon road, clinging like grim death to their costumes 
and rations. They wandered all iaver the place for two weeks, 
and finally rejoined the Brigade at Boutillerie. All their cos- 
tumes and properties were lost on the Brigade dump at Noyon, 
so for the second time in their career they had to start afresh. 

To return to the events of March 21st. Shortly before 
10 a.m. the Germans launched an attack on a front of fifty-four 
miles, from the River Oise (near the spot where the Brigade 
now stood ready) to the Sensee. 

To appreciate what followed one must understand the odds 
our troops were facing. Sir Douglas Haig's comparison of the 
forces engaged, in his despatch on these operations (published 
in the London Gazette of October 21st, 1918), is as follows ; — 

" In all, at least sixty-four German Divisions took part in 
the operations of the first day of the battle, a number con- 
siderably exceeding the total forces composing the entire British 
Army in France. 

" To meet this assault the Third Army disposed of eight 
Divisions in line in front of the enemy's initial attack, with 
seven Divisions available in reserve. The Fifth Army disposed 
of fourteen Divisions and three Cavalry Divisions, of which 
three Infantry Divisions and three Cavalry Divisions were in 
reserve. The total British force on the original battle-front, 
therefore, on the morning of March 21st was twenty-nine In- 
fantry Divisions and three Cavalry Divisions, of which nineteen 
Infantry Divisions were in the line." 

The day had been well chosen for the attack. To quote 
again from Sir Douglas Haig's despatch : — - 

" Favoured by a thick white fog, which hid from our artillery 
and machine guns the S.O.S. signal sent up by our outpost 
line, and in numbers which made loss of direction impossible, 
the attacking German infantry forced their way into our fore- 
most defensive zone. Until i.o p.m. the fog made it impossible 
to see more than fifty yards in any direction, and the machine 
guns and forward. field guns, which had been disposed so as to 
cover this zone with their fire, were robbed almost entirely of 

< c 
-3 n. 

= 1 


their effect. The detachments holding the outpost positions 
were consequently overwhelmed or surrounded, in many cases 
before they were able to pass back information concerning the 
enemy's attack." 

When the bombardment opened, the Brigade was still at 
Caillouel, less the Bedfordshire Regiment at liouez. Shortly 
after 8 a.m. orders were received to proceed to a position of 
readiness in the Bois de Tombelle, with Brigade headquarters 
at the little village of Faillouel, just west of the Crozat Canal, 
that was to play such an important part in the operations of 
the next few days. The journey up was made in lorries, and 
was completed by midday. 

By this time the enemy, assisted by a long spell of dry weather, 
had crossed the Oise River and Canal north of La Fere and south 
of St. Quentin, between Essigny and Benay. This situation 
had to be dealt with, if only to gain time, and shortly after 
I p.m. orders came by telephone for the Brigade to counter- 
attack at once to regain the " Camisole Switch " (a part of the 
defensive system dug by our battahons) between Montescourt 
and Ly Fontaine, on the farther side of the Crozat Canal. The 
Germans were reported to be in Gibercourt, about half-way 
between these two villages. 

With advanced and fiank guards, the three battalions were 
moved across the canal to the south edge of the Montescourt — - 
Ly Fontaine Ridge, moving through wooded valleys till the 
Fusiliers on the left were at Montescourt and the Northampton- 
shire Regiment on the right at Remigny. The Bedfordshire 
Regiment was in reserve, sending one company to hold the high 
ground east of Ly Fontaine. 

The attack was launched at dusk, and met with very slight 
opposition, the whole of the "Camisole Switch " being occupied 
as ordered soon after 7 p.m. 

By this time the situation, obscure as it necessarily was at 
the time to those on the spot, had developed rapidly. Fargnier 
and Quessy, on the Crozat Canal, about five miles south of the 
Brigade, had been captured by the Germans towards the end 
of the afternoon, and it was obvious that all British troops 
east of the canal must be withdrawn. Thus the Brigade had 
no sooner occupied the " Camisole Switch," and settled down to 
consolidate, than orders came to form a rearguard covering the 
retirement of the 14th Division over the canal, and, that job 
accomplished, to withdraw themselves behind the canal and 
hold the line at that point. 

To follow properly the adventures and misadventures of each 
battalion during the next few days would Jill a volume of in- 
dividual reminiscences, if they were forthcoming. It was a 
time when every company and platoon — indeed, every section — 
made its own history and had its own point of view, though 
by good leadership and splendid co-operation by all concerned 


the Brigade always remained a united and (to coin a word) 
" handleable " formation. 

Of the withdrawal to the canal an officer of the Fusiliers 
writes : — 

" Orders were given for the battalion to assemble at a certain 
map reference and march back to J ussy. Alas for maps and 
map-reading ! ' A ' Company and battalion headquarters 
formed up in one field, and the other companies could not be 
found. I spent an anxious hour looking for them, and found 
them eventually through running accidentally into Major 
Deakin, who was commanding ' C ' Company. They had been 
within 400 yards of us all the time. Then followed the march 
back to Jussy. By this time everyone was very hungry and 
thoroughly tired out, and I shall never forget the welcome 
sight of the cookers, in charge of Captain Minchin — than whom 
there was never a better quartermaster or more dearly-loved 

It was after midnight when the withdrawal was completed, 
and the Brigade held the line Jussy-Mennessis, between the rail- 
way embankment and the canal. Orders had been given to 
destroy the canal bridges. It is, happily, not necessary in this 
book to discuss why the job was not properly carried out. 
General Sadleir- Jackson himself made every effort to see that 
the work was done, and at one time the Bedfordshires were 
making vain attempts to destroy the Montague bridges with 
trench-mortar shells. But the fact remains that the bridges 
had not been prepared for demolition, adequate supplies of 
explosives were not on the spot, and the bridges were not 
properly destroyed. 

Soon after daylight on March 22 nd the enemy, helped again 
by fog, massed for a great attack on the canal crossings on the 
Brigade front. The canal makes a sharp bend north of Jussy, 
and machine guns were able to enfilade the village, so that 
the Fusiliers holding the left of our line had an extremely un- 
comfortable time and movement became difficult. Field guns 
and trench mortars opened heavily on the whole of the Brigade 
front, and 5"9's were paying unhealthy attention to Faillpuel 
to our rear. 

The early evening saw some bitter fighting. Strong assaults 
were delivered on the Jussy and Montague bridges, and at both 
points the enemy secured a footing on our side of the canal. 
A counter-attack by " B " Company of the Northamptonshire 
Regiment, hurried up from support, restored the situation on our 
left, and the Germans were thrown back across the canal. By 
this time cavalry had been sent to reinforce the hard-pressed 
infantry, and the Brigade had twenty-seven of the 20th Hussars 
and thirty Royal Scots Greys, with four cavalry machine guns, 
in the line with them. 


The situation at the Montagne bridge, where the enemy had 
crossed, was dealt with in the afternoon by three companies of 
the Northamptonshire Regiment ("A," " C," and " D ") and 
one company of the Bedfordshire Regiment, who counter- 
attacked in great style and drove the Germans to the other 
side of the canal, taking three machine guns and several prisoners, 
and re-estabhshing a bridge-head with a Lewis gun. In this 
counter-attack the Northamptonshire Regiment lost 2nd-Lieu- 
tenant Pointer (attached from the Middlesex Regiment) killed, 
and Captain Fawkes, and-Lieutenant Jones, and 2nd-Lieutenant 
Woodland wounded. 

It was at this time that 2nd-Lieutenant A. C. Herring, of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, did the magnificent work for 
which he was afterwards awarded the V.C. The official account 
reads as follows : — 

"On March 23 rd the Germans crossed the Montagne bridge, after 
severe fighting, and gained a position on the south bank of the 
canal. 2nd-Lieutenant Herring's post was cut off from the troops 
on both flanks and surrounded. He at once counter-attacked with 
his post and recaptured the position, taking over twenty prisoners 
and six machine guns. The post was attacked continuously 
throughout the night for eleven hours, and all attacks were 
beaten off. This was entirely due to the splendid heroism dis- 
played by 2nd-Lieutenant Herring, who continually visited his 
men personally throughout the night and cheered them up. 
The initiative and individual bravery of this officer were entirely 
responsible for holding up the German advance for eleven hours 
at an exceedingly critical period. The magnificent heroism 
and personal bravery of this officer, coupled with his initiative 
and skill in handling his troops, were most important factors 
in holding up the German advance over the Crozat Canal." 

Darkness closed in on that day of hard and bitter fighting, 
and still the line of the canal was held. During the night the 
enemy contented himself with snipftig and bursts of machine- 
gun fire. 

Captain H. C. Browning, then adjutant of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment, whom many will remember as Acting-Staff-Captain 
at a later stage, won his M.C. that day. " The enemy [according 
to the official account] attacked with large forces, crossed a 
bridge which had not been demolished, and succeeded in push- 
ing back the left flank of the battalion. He was immediately 
counter-attacked and thrown back across the canal. This was 
largely due to Captain Browning, who displayed the greatest 
coolness and magnificent leadership in collecting and organ- 
izing the men and launching the counter-attack at a critical 
moment under intense artillery and machine-gun fire." 

Things had looked so bad for the Bedfordshire Regiment at 
one time on the afternoon of the 22nd that, with the enemy 
within about 200 yards of the battalion headquarters. Colonel 


Percival and Captain Browning destroyed all maps and secret 
documents to prevent their falling into German hands. 

When day broke on the 23rd the weather still favoured the 
Germans. Fog was thick over the rivers and canals and in 
the little valleys, so that he could bring up fresh masses of troops 
unseen. Then, when he had made his preparations, the fog 
suddenly lifted as though rolled up by the German staff, and 
low-flying enemy aeroplanes came over, coolly examining the 
dispositions of our thin line of defence. 

Our own patrols, pushed out into the fog, soon found that the 
enemy had forced a passage over the canal at J ussy, and was 
coming on our left flank (Royal Fusiliers) in some force. A 
little handful of a mixed force was thrown at him in counter- 
attack — a weak platoon of Fusiliers and thirty Royal Scots 
Greys — and he was pushed back into the village. 

A patrol was sent into Jussy, and found the place strongly 
held by the enemy. A detachment of Northumberland Hussars, 
with Hotchkiss gims, who had just reported to the Brigade as 
reinforcements, were pushed out to strengthen this weak left 
flank. A little later the Canadian Mounted Brigade sent up 
four machine gims, and these were put out on the same flank, 
where they did some magnificent work. 

At about II a.m. the Bedfordshire Regiment reported 
the enemy across the canal in strength in the cemetery at 
Mennessis. Later came news of the enemy marching down 
the Jussy-Faillouel road, and shortly after midday they were 
reported in the Bois de Frieres in our rear. 

The Fusiliers had been having a very bad time of it. " The 
fog was thicker than the London pea-soup variety," says the 
Fusilier officer whom I have already quoted, " and parties of 
Bosches began to trickle in on both flanks and to cut off parties 
of our men in the advanced positions. In this way we suffered 
a considerable number of casualties, including Major Deakin 
and Captain Pearcy, who were taken prisoners. Lieutenant 
Simmons and Lieutenant Knott, who were killed, and several 
other officers who were wounded. Lieutenant Knott, having 
killed four Bosches with his revolver, and having exhausted his 
ammunition, was killed while clubbing a fifth. 

" A fresh line of defence was now formed about 200 yards 
behind the canal, but matters were in a very confused state, 
to which the fog greatly contributed, and when the Brigade 
staff found that the enemy were well through on both flanks, 
orders were given to withdraw towards Frieres Faillouel. These 
orders reached the other battalions of the Brigade while the fog 
was still intense, and they were able to withdraw with com- 
paratively slight losses. The company of the Fusiliers to which 
the writer was attached never received these orders, and as far 
as can be ascertained they were never received by anyone in 
the front line. 


" About midday the fog suddenly lifted. We then found that 
the Bosche was in front, and that parties were working round 
in rear on both flanks, and we were subjected to terrible machine- 
gun fire. At about 2 p.m. the position became untenable, 
and an attempt was made to withdraw by those in a position 
to get away, while the remainder were forced to surrender. 

" The few who escaped withdrew behind the railway line, 
about 600 yards farther west, where another stand was made 
with the help of headquarters' details ; but again we were out- 
flanked and compelled to withdraw with the utmost haste and 
more or less in disorder. The Colonel held out here with a few 
men until the Bosches were within 100 yards of him, and then 
managed to escape unhurt, thanks to their bad marksman- 

Many officers and other ranks of the Fusiliers distinguished 
themselves by good work during these desperate hours. Among 
other officers who won the IVI.C. were Captains H. W. BroCrkling 
and H. L. Smedley. 

Captain Brooklin.g " for fourteen hours defended the position 
held by his company on the canal line against repeated attempts 
by the enemy in large numbers to cross. The thick mist made 
this extremely difficult, and it was by his personal example 
and skilful handling that the enemy were frustrated, with con- 
siderable losses. Eventually he was badly wounded, but con- 
tinued to encourage his men with the utmost disregard of danger. 
His untiring work prevented the piercing of the Brigade front 
at the junction of the battalions." 

Captain (then 2nd-Lieutenant) Smedley 's action is thus 
officially described : — 

" At dawn on March 23rd the enemy forced the canal and 
occupied the village on the left of the battalion, leaving the 
flank of the Royal Fusihers in the air. The situation was 
obscure, and 2nd-Lieutenant Smedley scouted right out to the 
flank and up to the village under heavy machine-gun fire. This 
highly valuable work was carried out with the greatest pluck 
and determination. During the subsequent withdrawal 2nd- 
Lieutenant Smedley, although wounded, carried his task to 
completion by covering the left flank." 

A D.C.M. was well won by Private H. Jordan, a company 
signaller. When the Fusiliers were being withdrawn, he was 
called upon to surrender with some others by the enemy. " He 
immediately, on his own initiative, organized a number of men 
for an attack, and led them, with the result that the enemy 
were driven back at the point of the bayonet, and the remainder 
of the company was able to withdraw in safety. He was wounded 
in the attack, but continued until the withdrawal was complete, 
and then rejoined his company." 

Sergeant W. Brisby, M.M., also won the D.C.M. at this time. 
" He did very useful work by sniping at the enemy, and caused 


the withdrawal of an enemy machine-gun team. Later, when 
his company was at last forced to surrender, he assisted in rally- 
ing the men who were prepared to attempt to rush back over 
ground swept by machine-gun fire. On reaching battalion 
headquarters he was instructed to accompany an officer to 
Brigade to report on the position. He begged to be excused, 
and rejoined the remnant of his battalion, who were making 
their last stand under heavy fire, and was wounded, but escaped 

It was shortly after midday on the 23rd when the Brigade 
commander decided, in view of the enveloping nature of the Ger- 
man movement on our front, to withdraw to the ridge south 
of Faillouel. Soon after this line had been taken up, early in 
the afternoon, came further welcome reinforcements in the shape 
of 200 of the Canadian Mounted Brigade (Fort Garry Horse 
and Lord Strathcona's Horse), who were pushed out to our 

By 4 p.m. it was seen that a further withdrawal would be 
necessary. The enemy shelled and seized a hill north-west of 
Faillouel, and, bringing up machine guns and trench mortars, 
made the position of our troops north of the village impossible. 
They accordingly fell back fighting through Faillouel, where 
Germans had already arrived in lorries. Heavy hostile shelling 
and machine-gun fire continued ; machine guns had us in enfilade 
from the north edge of Genlis Wood, and eventually the Brigade 
had to be withdrawn and concentrated at Caillouel. 

During the day a gallant piece of work was done by Lieutenant 
C. E. J. Richardson, with Nos. 3 and 4 sections of the 8oth 
Field Company R.E. They were at Rouez, and carried out a 
little counter-attack on their own initiative, driving the enemy 
from some high ground to the east of the village. Indeed, 
they drove the enemy so far that they were themselves eventu- 
ally almost surrounded, and had to fight their way back. 

Thus ended an eventful and costly day. The Fusiliers, 
having held the most exposed flank of our line on the canal, 
and suffered heavily in the fighting and withdrawal in the fog, 
were now only two officers and twenty-five other ranks strong. 
The Bedfordshire and the Northamptonshire Regiments had 
each about six officers and 200 other ranks. 

Splendid work had been done by the cavalry reinforcements 
attached to the Brigade — the Canadians, the Scots Greys, the 
20th Hussars, and the Northumberland Hussars. The latter 
had all their Hotchkiss guns knocked out by shell fire, but 
brought them out of action. 

It was obvious that a lot of trouble was still in store, but 
the Brigade still had their tails well up, and remained " full 
o' heart," to use a phrase which was becoming a sort of Brigade 
motto. Though badly battered, they had done their job, and 
remained an organized body, and everything possible was done 


to keep them fit and fresh for further ordeals. Therefore, after 
a good meal, everyone who could be spared was sent to bed, 
and thus had the last good night's sleep they were to enjoy 
for some time. 

On the following morning (March 24th) battalions were 
paraded and reorganized. " Battle surplus " had been picked 
up at Caillouel, and was used as reinforcements, and a few 
stragglers had come in. Thus the Fusihers now became a 
battalion of eight officers and about 180 other ranks, including 
transport and other details. Three companies were formed — 
"X," " Y," and " Z " — the latter consisting of the orderly- 
room sergeant and clerks, drums, police, pioneers, tailors, 
shoemakers, etc., under command of the adjutant. Captain 

As soon as this was done the Brigade was ordered to hold 
the high ground east of Caillouel, gaining touch with the French 
(gth Cuirassiers) on the left about Beaugies, and the 55th In- 
fantry Brigade on the north edge of Caillouel. The Bedford- 
shire Regiment was put in the line on the left, and the North- 
amptonshire Regiment on the right, with the Fusiliers in reserve 
behind the Crepigny Ridge. 

There were slight patrol encounters during the day, and the 
5th Royal Horse Artillery Brigade, supporting our line, engaged 
some targets effectively. But on the whole things were fairly 
quiet, though it was realized that the situation was developing 
rapidly on our left, where a strong German attack, after stiff 
fighting, drove the French out of Guivry. 

With the object of finding out the exact position on our left 
officer patrols were sent out after dark towards Beaugies, then 
understood to be still held by the French. Soon after 9 p.m. 
it was learned that the Germans were over the east edge of 
Beaugies and on the road to Maucourt, towards which village 
the French were retiring. 

Some patrols achieve information, others have it thrust upon 
them. In the latter class comes a patrol sent out that night 
under Captain Wattenbach, of the Fusiliers. He started out 
to have a look along the road which runs north from Crepigny 
and through a thick wood to Beaugies. Five of his own men 
and a Frenchman went with him. The following is his account 
of what happened :— 

" We strolled out, just armed with rifles and revolvers, put- 
ting points out in the usual way. We went on and on, taking care 
to make no noise, and came across nobody, but got thoroughly 
tired, having walked about two and a half miles under very 
nervy conditions after a very hard day. Very shortly we 
saw the end of the wood, and, approaching very slowly and 
cautiously, we found a group of about twenty-five or thirty men 
in the centre of the road, evidently, we thought, a British or 
French standing patrol. I looked very carefully, and it entered 


my head that it might not be one of ours ; then I noticed one 
or two people creeping up under cover on both sides of the 
road, with the obvious intention of enveloping us. I looked 
again at the crowd in the road, and Field Service Regulations 
at once came to my mind. 1 had learned that bayonets should 
never be fixed on a moonlight night on patrol duty ; these 
people had their bayonets fixed, and they were short, broad 
bayonets. Then I heard gruff voices [they were not very far 
away then], and I knew at once they were Bosches. 

" I had one Frenchman and five of our own men with me — 
not much match for thirty odd Bosches. I remembered, also, 
that we were about two and a half miles from what I believed 
to be the nearest British troops. We did not go hot-headed 
for them and fire all the rounds we had, because we should have 
been overwhelmed, and discretion, at such a period, I take to 
be the better part of valour. We did not waste much time in 
getting back to our battalion and reporting that nobody was 
in touch on the left, and that the line was very much discon- 

" On the following day we found that the enemy was well 
round the other side of the spur, so that on the previous night 
we must have penetrated to a considerable depth in his lines." 

At midnight (March 24th — 25th) the withdrawal began, and by 
2 a.m. on the 25th the Brigade was roughly on the Crepigny line. 
Except that heavy firing could be heard from our left, the situa- 
tion in that direction was still obscure, and at daylight General 
Sadleir-Jackson, with his liaison officer — Lieutenant Lee, of the 
Fusiliers — and two mounted men, rode off to see how things 
looked at Maucourt. 

That cleared up the obscurity in no uncertain way, for from 
Cave Woods, overlooking Maucourt, German columns, with 
bugles blowing, could be seen marching along the road to 
Quesny. At the same time heavy firing could be heard from 
the Guiscard direction, a little farther north. 

A little later Captain Cumberlege, then the Brigade-Major, 
saw from the Grandru spur (or Montague de Grandru) a column 
of German troops and transport in column of route in the 
valley to the north, all marching along in great spirits, with a 
band leading. A couple of machine guns were got up and 
opened unexpectedly on the column, putting the transport to 
flight and inflicting several casualties. It was all very cheerful, 
but, like all the hard lighting of that morning, it could only 
delay the inevitable retreat. 

As an illustration of the inevitable confusion when mixed 
bodies of troops under different commands are withdrawing 
before an enemy who is trying to hustle them, an experience of 
the Northamptonshires is interesting. The battalion was being 
withdrawn in artillery formation, and the leading platoon had 
just got over a crest when they suddenly came under lively 


machine-gun fire from the opposite ridge. Though the general 
situation was known to be obscure, it appeared impossible that 
the Germans had got so far round to our rear. After a while 
the fire died down, and the battalion got forward. Later on 
the ridge from which the fire had been opened was reached, and 
French troops were found in position with machine guns. Some 
mild remonstrance was made at their action in firing at us, 
and they were disinclined to admit any responsibility until a 
tin of bully beef was produced from an officer's haversack with 
one of their bullets sticking in it. It is only fair to say that 
they apologized very handsomely then over this rather awkward 
case of mistaken identity. 

Things now began to move rapidly. It was evident that the 
Germans were moving in force to turn the woods to our north, 
and possibly to cut off our retreat over the Oise River and Canal 
bridges to the south of us. The position is best explained to 
those who do not know the ground by imagining that we were 
on the Thames Embankment between Northumberland Avenue 
and Westminster. The enemy are in Whitehall. If they move 
down ^^'hitehall and round by Big Ben towards the river, they 
will obviously prevent us from retreating by way of Westminster 
Bridge. All the buildings between us and Whitehall represent 
the woods round which the Germans were working, with Beaugies 
and Quesny somewhere on the Horse Guards Parade. Of course, 
this represents the actual scene of the fighting on a very small 

To make sure that the enemy did not get on the Maucourt- 
Grandru road before the retirement was completed, the Fusiliers 
were sent to occupy the Montagne de Grandru, facing north, 
and the retirement, in conjunction with the French (gth Cuiras- 
siers) and the 55th Infantry Brigade, began at 8.30 on the 25th. 

At about II a.m. machine-gun fire was heard from the direc- 
tion of Behericourt, and heavy artillery fire from the direction 
of the Httle village of Baboeuf. Following the illustration just 
given, this practically meant that some of the enemy had got 
on the Thames Embankment near the lower end of Northumber- 
land Avenue. Shells and bullets began to fall among the 
Fusili-irs, and there were all the makings of a very ticklish and 
unpleasant situation. A little later the Maucourt-Grandru road 
was receiving a great deal too much attention from artillery 
and machine guns near the point where it ran round the spur 
on which the Fusiliers were perched. 

To extricate the Fusiliers and cover the retreat, the Bedford- 
shire Regiment was withdrawn by platoons to the Montagne 
de Behericourt, a further stage on the westward road to the 
bridge by which we must cross. (Call it Westminster Bridge, 
if you have followed the little illustration already referred to.) 

This manoeuvre was carried out, the Fusiliers were got back 
by platoons, under artillery and machine-gun fire, and finally 


the line at Behericourt was held on the left by some French 
troops who had come up (ist Dismounted Cavalry Division), 
and the Northamptonshire Regiment, and the Fusiliers and 
Bedfordshire Regiment were withdrawn into reserve. 

All seemed now ready to make the crossing to the south side 
of the Oise River and Canal, and the Fusiliers and Bedfordshire 
Regiment were ordered to march on the Baboeuf bridge. But 
before the crossing could be reached, "Captain Wattenbach, of 
the Fusiliers, and Lieutenant Lee, Brigade liaison officer, who 
had ridden ahead to make sure that the bridges were intact, 
found Baboeuf held by the Germans. 

There was nothing to be done now but to divert the crossing 
to the Varesnes bridge, over two miles farther west, and the 
whole Brigade was being withdrawn in that direction when it 
was suddenly faced about to make an amazing counter-attack 
that, in the minds of those who took part, will live as the most 
memorable incident of the retreat. 

Remember that the Brigade had now had five days of hard 
fighting and hard marching, taking endless punishment in that 
always difficult operation, a rearguard action, and that by all 
the text-books it should have no fight left in it. Indeed, it 
was sheer unconquerable impertinence that it existed at all 
after the handling it had received. As for counter-attacking 
and taking a village — well, it has happened very often in the 
history of the British Army that the text-books have been 
neglected in the hour of need, with glorious results. Corunna 
was one such instance, and the 54th Brigade may be allowed 
to think that Baboeuf was another. 

Let us get the situation as clear as possible. The whole 
Brigade was now making westward for the crossing at Varesnes 
with — let it be admitted — as much speed as the ordinary pro- 
cautions of rearguard warfare and due thought for the dignity 
of the British Army would allow. It was badly out-voted in 
the little debate that had now been going on for some days, 
and the weight of the argument had been entirely with the Ger- 
mans. In short, the Brigade was very tired and very badly 
punished, and had been fought so nearly to a standstill that 
it ought not to count. And so it surprised its friends and foes 
alike by showing that it was still to be reckoned with. 

As the Brigade retired, a gap of some 2,000 yards had been 
left between the French on the high ground north of Beheri- 
court and the 53rd Brigade on the railway-line to the south 
of Baboeuf. Several French batteries of 75 's were in this gap, 
firing towards Baboeuf, with no infantry in front of them. It 
was to save these guns and to delay the Germans, who were 
thus cutting in between the French and the 53rd Brigade, that 
General Sadleir-Jackson decided to counter-attack and seize the 
high ground north of Baboeuf and the village itself. 


So the tired battalions, now cut down to less than half- 
strength, were faced about, and shortly after 5 p.m. were de- 
ployed for the attack. The front extended from the Babceuf- 
Conipeigne main road, inclusive, on our right, to the south edge 
of the woods above BabcEuf. The Fusiliers were on the right, 
and the Bedfordshire Regiment on the left, with the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment in reserve. 

Within half an hour from the first decision to make this move 
the attack had been launched, without any artillery prepara- 
tion. In the excitement of this unexpected move, all fatigue 
and hardship were forgotten, and everything went forward with 
a swing. The village was held with machine guns, but the 
attack pressed on with surprisingly few casualties. One can 
only assume that the Germans thought something more lay in 
the move than an assault by a tired, hard-fought Brigade, now 
barely as strong as a single battalion. At any rate, he gave 
way, the village was captured, ten machine guns were taken 
and destroyed, and 230 Germans killed or taken prisoner. 

Few will forget the fight up the little main street of the 
village, where a calf calmly wandered at the head of our line, 
although a hot interchange of shots was taking place with the 
Germans. The Fusiliers, who had gone into the attack very 
weak, met with some little resistance in " mopping-up " the 
south side of the village, and two companies of the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment were moved up to their assistance. Finally 
the place was cleared, and by 6.30 p.m. the position was being 
consolidated in the meadows on the Germans' side of the village. 
Tools were collected from houses in Salency and sent up in a 
limber, together with rations from the ever-welcome cooker. 
There was some shelling of the village, but nothing very serious. 
As the light failed, the enemy had been seen digging in about 
800 yards farther east. So the night came on, a signal-lamp 
flickered between the village and Brigade headquarters at 
Salency, and the men settled down wearily, but full of heart, 
for what seemed the inevitable German counter-attack at dawn. 

But the object of the operation had been attained, and there 
was no intention of holding the position. Orders came to hold 
the line until 2 a.m. on the 26th, and then to retire over the 
river and canal. So one by one the tired and battered bat- 
talions — first the Fusiliers, then the Bedfordshires, and last of 
all the Northamptonshires — made their way through the dark- 
ness to Salency and across the bridge at Varesnes. 

An exhausted motor despatch-rider reported to the Bedford- 
shires that the bridge was just on the point of being blown up, 
and Colonel Percival had to send an urgent message to prevent 
its being blown up before they arrived. On arrival at the bridge 
they were warned to break step in crossing, as the supports 
were already half demolished, and might give way before they 
got over. Everybody was glad to get safely on the other side. 


The speed with which our alHes destroyed the Oise bridges 
proved most inconvenient to the Brigadier's haison officer, who 
had remained behind to direct the rearguards. This officer was 
mounted, and found to his dismay, on reaching the Oise, that 
the river bridge had been demoHshed, and the sappers were 
just on the point of blowing up the land bridge, lie had a wet 
journey the rest of the night, as there was nothing for it but 
to abandon his horse and swim across. 

By 6 a.m. they were at Caisnes. The village was already 
full of French heavy artillery, but the Bedfordshire and North- 
amptonshire Regiments were squeezed into shelter, and Brigade 
headquarters were established at Caisnes Chateau. The Fusiliers 
were sent a little farther on to L'Aigle. Soon after daybreak 
all had had hot tea and were settled down for a little rest. 

Then followed much moving about, but on the whole a few 
days of quiet, while the Brigade was pulled together and thrown 
into another part of the line. 

Caisnes had been reached soon after 6 a.m. on the 26th. 
By 4 p.m. on the same day the Brigade was marching out for 
Audignicourt, where by 10 p.m. all the battalions settled down 
for a night in some caves on the north of the village. The 
caves were filthy, and full of broken bottles, but it was some- 
thing to have a corner in which to fling a weary body, and to 
have some sort of certainty that one would not be dragged out 
in the hours of darkness to march and fight. 

On the following day the Brigade was marched to St. Aubin. 
Here the Royal Sussex Pioneers and the 8oth Field Company 
R.E. were attached. Some Frerrch baths were got working, 
and everyone settled down to the well-earned delights of food, 
rest, and baths. 

The next move was at 4 p.m. on March 30th, when the Brigade 
marched to Nampcel, whence lorries took them a long, slow 
journey of twelve hours to Boves, a little south-east of Amiens, 
where the next phase of the fighting, the defence of Amiens, 
took place. 

In difficult operations, where all did so well and so many 
were awarded well-won decorations, it is difficult to deal as fully 
as one would like with individual actions. Those already quoted 
have been selected merely as illustrating the desperate character 
of the fighting. 

Chapter XIV 


p VENTS of the next few weeks fall under the general heading, 
■'-' " The Defence of Amiens." It was realized that this im- 
portant centre of communications was the enemy's objective, 
and the Brigade had a front seat for the show. 

The move from St. Aubin was made in French 'busses, and 
took the whole of March 30th, as a big detour had to be made. 
The trip was not without its bright moments, as the French 
drivers had been on the move for about a week, and several 
of them dropped off to sleep at the wheel and ran the 'busses 
into trees. It was after dark when Boves (a village about five 
miles south of Amiens) was reached. The Brigade was all 
beautifully mixed up. A battalion commander who could find 
as much as a company of his men was looked upon as almost 
too lucky for such a war, and the Brigade commander and his 
officers spent hours wandering up and down a long string of 
'busses, sorting out the men, and putting them for the night 
into streets where nobody knew us or expected us or loved us. 

On the following day (March 31st) the Brigade was ordered 
forward to Gentelles (about four miles due east). The first task 
was to hold the high ground between Hangard village (held by 
the French) and Hangard Wood (held by the 53rd Brigade), 
and accordingly the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment was 
put into this part of the line. They were relieved by three 
companies of the 7th Bedfordshire Regiment on the next 
evening, but again took over the line twenty-four hours later, 
and continued to hold it for about a week. And not a pleasant 
week by any means. The troops were accommodated in slits, 
out of which Jerry shelled them at his pleasure ; the weather 
was very wet, so that everyone was always wet through, and 
hot food and drink could only be got up to the line after dark. 

The enemy were seen digging in on the high ground north of 
Aubercourt, and on April 2nd it was thought well to attack this 
ridge and advance our line. The plan was to form up among 
the trees of the river valley (which here runs practically east 
and west), and attack north-east. 

The attack was to be delivered by one company of Fusiliers 
on the right, and one company of the Bedfordshire Regiment on 
the left. Each battalion held a company in close support. 
It was timed to take place at 6.45 p.m., but was afterwards put 
off to 7 p.m. on account of the unusual brightness of the evening. 



Early in the afternoon the assaulting companies moved out 
of Gentelles by half-platoons. Unfortunately, as they en- 
deavoured to " trickle " into the forming-up place, enemy 
observers on the ridge anticipated the attack, and heavy shell- 
ing was begun, together with machine-gun fire. The Fusiliers 
were fired on from front, rear, and right flank, enemy machine 
guns south of the River Luce doing specially heavy damage, 
and knocking out all the Lewis guns. 

Soon after 7 p.m. rockets and Very lights went up from the 
enemy behind the ridge which was the objective of the attack, 
the barrage and machine-gun fire increased in intensity, and 
it became clear that the task was beyond the powers of the 
assaulting troops. The FusiUers had by this time lost two 
officers and forty other ranks, and the Bedfordshire Regiment 
four officers and sixty other ranks. 

Accordingly the assaulting battalions were withdrawn to 
Gentelles, and the Northamptonshire Regiment continued to 
hold the fine. 

Now followed heavier shelling by the enemy, and constant 
attempts to break through. On the misty morning of the 3rd 
small bodies of his troops were seen trickling into the valley 
between his line on the Aubercourt Ridge and the line held by 
the Northamptonshire Regiment. Our Stokes guns put down 
a hurricane barrage into this valley till knocked out by a minen- 
werfer. In the meantime hostile shelling continued, and at 
4 p.m. a heavy barrage was put down on the line to our left. 
This began to bend back, the movement spread to a part of 
our line, but any rot that was setting in was stopped at this 
stage by General Sadleir-Jackson, who galloped to and fro under 
fire, rallying the men. 

" The men [writes an officer who was present] were met by 
an infuriated figure galloping up and down the front line. 
Aghast at the awful language, they stopped. It was the General. 
It was safer in the line, and they returned." 

Our men were rallied on the sunken road which runs north 
from Hangard to Hangard Wood. Captain Mobbs, of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, did good work on the difficult 
left flank, where the troops we should have been in touch with 
had fallen back. From here they were taken forward to the 
original line, which was still in our hands that night. 

The retirement of the troops on our left having made the 
position on that flank rather obscure, a mounted patrol was 
sent out, and found that the enemy were in the east of Hangard 
Wood, and our line through the wood and to the north was 
weak and disorganized. The Fusiliers, who had been detached 
as divisional reserve, were ordered up to the north of the wood 
to improve matters. The adventures of that battalion are best 
dealt with by Major Wattenbach, who was then the adjutant : — 


" On the night of April 3rd, just as dusk was creeping on, the 
battalion received a wire direct from the Division to say that 
we were to counter-attack through certain squares, whatever 
they were — anyhow, we were to attack over a distance of three 
miles — ^nd were eventually to take up a given line. It was 
raining very hard, and the ground was extremely heavy. The 
battalion formed up just north of (lentelles, and all officers in 
possession of compasses took careful bearings. We launched 
out into artillery formation over very thick plough. The men 
were wet through, and sank well over the ankle in mud ; it was 
getting darker every moment, and it was very cold. In short, 
everybody was properly miserable, and the thought of a long 
night and all that might happen before daybreak was not exactly 
a stimulant. However, the battalion plodded along over what 
seemed to be an endless tract of country. There were no stars 
to guide the way, and maintaining touch with companies, 
platoons, and sections under such conditions was no easy matter. 

" We carefully counted the roads we crossed, and on nearing 
the wood, which was on our right, several Bosche Very lights 
went up no very great distance from battalion headquarters. 
Runners were constantly coming in from the front [goodness 
only knows how they found their way, when we were con- 
tinually on the move], and it was reported that the Bosches 
were seen in front digging in on the road, which was part of 
our ultimate position. Scouts on the left reported one on two 
Frenchmen, on the right there was no touch, and we came to 
the conclusion that we had to fill a gap in the line. For all 
we knew there were no British troops for miles. With great 
difficulty, and after consultation over soaked maps with an 
electric torch under a waterproof sheet, we eventually con- 
structed a line on paper, and endeavoured to conform to it on 
the ground, with a fair amount of success. 

" Lieutenant-Colonel [then Major] Gwynn was then sent back 
by Colonel Sulman to explain the situation, and point out the 
necessity for another battahon at least to help fill the gap 
with us. The Essex Regiment eventually arrived just as we 
w6re consolidating our new line, and thank goodness things 
were more or less straightened out. We were then informed 
that we should have to side-slip past one battalion, and take 
up the line of the road with our left resting on the Monument 
[on the Aubercourt-Villers-Bretonneux road]. It was then 
purely a question of time, as dawn gradually broke with its 
usual mist, and the battalion began to trudge wearily towards 
Villers Bretonneux to take up the new line. This we did, and 
the battalion got into its new position and the Essex Regiment 
came up on the right just as dawn had broken. One can 
imagine the feelings of the Bosche on discovering a fairly well- 
formed hne not very far away. We held this line until relieved 
by the Australians, when we went back to billets in Gentelles." 


Leaving the Fusiliers to carry on with their separate enter- 
tainment, let us now return to the rest of the Brigade. 

April 4th was a day of intermittent shelling of our front and 
support lines, but there was no hostile infantry action. But 
the following day was to relieve any boredom that might be 
creeping over us. 

April 5th broke wet and misty, and as visibility improved 
Germans were seen creeping up the valley and into the dead 
ground within a hundred yards of our front line. Throughout 
the morning heavy artillery and trench-mortar fire was directed 
on our line, and the Northamptonshire Regiment was enfiladed 
by machine-gun fire from Hangard Wood. As things appeared 
about to happen, the Bedfordshire Regiment was now brought 
up from Brigade reserve. Two companies were dug in in a 
series of small slits, each containing two men, along the ridge 
between the Domart and Hangard valleys, and two companies 
were held as counter-attack troops in the Domart valley. Strong 
points, garrisoned by the Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire 
Regiments, were also formed, and a section of the Trench Mortar 
Battery was put on our left flank. 

Heavy shelling and machine-gun fire continued throughout 
the morning and early afternoon, with a good deal of gas. About 
three o'clock a haystack where a signal-station had been estab- 
lished, about a hundred yards west of a line of poplars that the 
Northamptonshires will remember, was set on fire by an in- 
cendiary shell, and blazed merrily. The Brigade commander 
had just been making a personal reconnaissance of the front 
line from this stack, but luckily had left in time. 

" Meanwhile [writes a Northamptonshire officer] our front 
line was being literally battered in by shell fire and trench mor- 
tars, inflicting tremendous casualties on the few remaining 
troops. No tribute can be too high for those gallant officers, 
N.C.Os. and men who stood firm that day until they were 
killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Two officers. Lieutenant 
Law and 2nd-Lieutenant Hall, were killed, and 2nd-Lieutenant 
Caswell was taken prisoner. 

" By five o'clock the line was pierced in many places, and 
the remnants of the battalion were collected and took up a 
position on the ridge midway between Gentelles and Domart. 
Just as arrangements were being made for our relief an urgent 
message was received from the officer commanding the French 
troops on our right, stating that they had been driven out of 
Hangard, and were about to make a counter-attack to retake 
the village, asking if our battalion would assist by co-operating, 
and attack simultaneously on their left flank. To this Colonel 
Turner at once consented, sending confirmation to Brigade. 
At the moment fixed for the French troops to commence their 
advance, 7.20 p.m., the runner returned with the Brigadier's 
order to assist. 



















5 ^ 


"The objective of the battaUon was the sunken road running 
north from the village to Hangard Wood, 1,500 yards distant. 
Colonel Turner led the attack, assisted by Major Stewart. We 
met with considerable artillery opposition, and sustained several 
casualties early in the advance from shell fire. Midway to our 
objective were the glowing embers of a straw stack which had 
been set on fire a few hours previously, and silhouetted against 
this light our line became a ready target for the enemy machine 
guns now brought up into the copse adjoining our objective. 
Nevertheless, we had succeeded in getting to within fifty yards 
of the sunken road, when a large volume of machine-gun and 
rifle fire held up the advance. At this point a heavy shell fell 
a few yards in front, wounded Colonel Turner and killed Major 
Stewart and 2nd-Lieutenant Cuzens. The road itself being 
strongly enfiladed by machine guns, a line was taken up just 
short of it, where we dug in and held on till relieved some hours 
later by the Australian Corps. 

" Throughout the period from March 23rd Colonel Turner 
was continuously with the battalion. His personal bravery 
had long been a byword with us, but never befftre did his valour 
show so conspicuously as dui'ing this week. No one who took 
part in this final counter-attack will forget the manner in which 
he led the few remnants of his battalion forward, himself at the 
head, cheering and urging them on, and finally, when wounded, 
sitting up and encouraging the men to dig in." 

That night our front was handed over to the Australians, 
and the Brigade was withdrawn to Gentelles, where it was held 
for counter-attack purposes till the 13th, when it was sent a 
little farther back to Cagny and Boutillerie. 

The M.C. was well earned by Captain B. C. Gillott, of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, on the night of the counter- 
attack just described. He had done good work throughout 
the day under heavy fire, and after the commanding officer had 
been wounded and the second-in-command killed, he, as ad- 
jutant, was chiefly responsible for organizing the new position 
and keeping touch with the French. 

The remaining work of the Brigade, which was now held in 
readiness to counter-attack anywhere on the Corps front, was 
chiefly in connection with the enemy's last great effort before 
Amiens. At dawn on April 24th a particularly heavy bombard- 
ment awoke any who happened to be asleep in Amiens and the 
surrounding villages, and the word went round that the Germans 
M'ere attacking again. 

The Brigade was soon under arms, and by 7 a.m. was crossing 
the river bridges at Fort Manoir Farm, on its way up to the 
line once more. A position was then taken up roughly on the 
St. Nicholas-Blagny-Tronville track (west of Bois dc I'Abbe), 
and the battalions dug in. But orders soon came to get farther 
forward, and by i p.m. the Brigade was dug in on the high 


ground between Gentelles and the south-west corner of the Bois 
de I'Abbe, across the enemy's main Hne of approach to Amiens. 

The situation to our front was somewhat obscure, but it was 
gathered that, following closely on the heavy bombardment at 
dawn, the enemy had launched a determined assault on Villers 
Bretonneux, and was now holding the eastern edge of Bois 
de I'Abbe. He was also disputing the possession of Cachy. 

Cachy was at this time covered by a composite body known 
as " Shepherd's Force," taking its name from an officer of the 
6th Northamptonshire Regiment who had been put in command. 

The battalion had reached Cagny, and Major Shepherd, after 
a good dinner, had taken his clothes off for the first time for 
a week, and gone to bed in a real bed. He might have known 
that such luxury was too good to last, and the events that 
followed are worth quoting as typical of a quiet night in rest 

At I a.m. a German aeroplane came over and dropped bombs 
on the village, badly smashing up a company of the London 
Regimen-t who were marching through, and partially wrecking 
Major Shepherd's billet, bringing his bed in ruins to the ground. 
He spent some hours in slippers and pyjamas collecting the 
wounded of the London Regiment, and had just refixed his 
bed with a view to getting asleep again, when a runner dashed 
in with a message. It was an order to report to the 175th Brigade 
at 10 a.m. 

On reporting there he was told to take over command of a 
scratch team, to be known as " Shepherd's Force," and to hold 
the line in front of Cachy, with headquarters at Gentelles. 
He accordingly proceeded, with Captain Gillott as adjutant, 
to the latter place, where a long queue of officers with small 
parties under their command reported for duty. Eventually 
the force was sorted out, and found to consist of : — 

2 companies 6th Northatnptonshires (" A " and " C "). 

I company i-4th Suffolks. 

I company London Regiment. 

70 R.Es., under Major Byewater. 

Part of 175th T.M.B. under Captain Peabody. 

7 tunnellers. 

8 machine guns. 

The days that followed were full of excitement, the German 
gunners and gas merchants doing all in their power to keep 
" Shepherd's Force " from getting bored with the proceedings. 

An attack was expected any day. Captured Germans stated 
that at least two Divisions were going to be put into the attack, 
and more if necessary ; further, that the attack had been prac- 
tised behind the line on prepared ground, and the objective 
was a village unknown, which they were not only to go round, 
but to go through. Nice little pink forms arrived almost hourly 
from Division, giving further information of the forthcoming 
attack. Fifteen German tanks were to be used. Yellow Cross 


gas was to be flung in unsparingly. "Shepherd's Force" began 
to feel that the Germans were taking it far too seriously. 

Finally, in the early hours of the 24th, just as the great 
bombardment had begun, the Division sent Major Shepherd a 
cheery little message, reading : "In continuation of my so-and- 
so of such-and-such a date, prisoner states that village of Cachy 
is their objective." 

By this time Cachy had ceased to be a residential site, and had 
become a mere heap of road-mending material, for the bombard- 
ment was hot and strong. 

Defensive measures against the tanks — of which this was the 
first use by Germans — had to be thought of. Arrangements 
were made to bring field guns forward to deal with them, but 
owing to the mist which was a constant early morning feature, 
it was realized that they would not be able to get on their 
targets. It was then decided to push up trench mortars, with 
orders to put down a barrage as soon as they saw a tank. It 
was not thought that this would do any damage, but it was 
hoped that it would scare off the tanks, as it was the Germans' 
first use of them. 

The attack duly took place, the Germans broke through the 
troops in front and came down on " Shepherd's Force." A mes- 
sage came back to headquarters that two tanks were about 500 
yards to our front, and that Germans were forming up around 
them. This attack was driven off, but one of the tanks came 
on until it was right on top of our wire.' Then, to the general 
amazement, it turned round and tried to get away, but stuck 
fast soon afterwards, and was eventually brought into our lines. 
This was the first German tank captured by us, and " Shepherd's 
Force " very much wanted to adopt it as a mascot, but general 
opinion was against them. Drawings of it were afterwards 
distributed to units by G.H.Q., with " vital spots " marked 
for the benefit of all concerned. 

Later on in the day the Germans attacked again with tanks 
and infantry, and got within 300 yards of our lines. It was 
beginning to look as though " Shepherd's Force " would shortly 
be struck off the strength of the British Army with some vio- 
lence, when a dramatic thing happened. Seven of our own 
light fast tanks (whippets) came racing out of the Bois de 
I'Abbe and went all out for the Germans. By a happy coin- 
cidence these whippets were under the command of Captain 
Price, formerly of the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment, who 
has already been mentioned in these pages. The German attack 
was completely broken up, our fast tanks dashing to and fro 
among the Germans, shooting and crushing them down, and 
finally coming out of action covered with blood. 

On the following night " Shepherd's Force " was relieved by a 
battalion of French Moroccan troops, and ceased to exist, its 
various parts rejoining their own units. 


Now to return to the rest of the Brigade, which we left dug 
in between Gentelles and the Bois de I'Abl^e. This position 
was occupied throughout the day, except that the nth Royal 
Fusihers were detached and moved into support beliind the 
58th Division, a Httle to the south of Cientelles. 

At about 6 p.m. Captain H. C. Browning, adjutant of the 
Bedfordshire Regiment, and temporarily in command of the 
battalion, was summoned to Brigade headquarters, in a slit 
dug-out under a root-stack, and ordered to counter-attack 
towards the Villers Bretonneux-Aubercourt road, with a view 
to retaking our front line, which had been rushed by the Germans 
earlier in the day. This was, of course, the part of the line 
which had been pierced in front of "Shepherd's Force." He was 
told that the Australians would be on his left, and the West 
Kent Regiment on his right, and our barrage would open at 
10 p.m. 

He decided to attack with " C " Company on the right (com- 
manded by Captain Kingdon, killed in the operation), " B " 
in the centre (commanded by Captain McBride, also killed), 
and " A " on the left (commanded by Lieutenant Trewman, 
wounded). " D " Company was held in reserve (commanded 
by Captain Lawrence, killed). 

Having made his plans with his company commanders. Cap- 
tain Browning pushed ahead with a runner to see where the 
Australians' right would rest, and to find the forming-up line. 
In attacking, the battalion would have the Bois de I'Abbe on 
their left, and Cachy to their right rear, with their objective 
directly ahead — a simple affair as regards direction, except for 
the darkness. 

It was very heavy going through sticky mud all churned up 
by shell fire, and very dark, but luckily fine. On arriving at 
the line, locating it with some difficulty. Captain Browning 
found where his right and left were to rest (this gave him a 
front of about 900 yards), and proceeded to lay down the tape. 
Owing to the short notice at which the attack had to be carried 
out, he had brought no tape of his own, but borrowed about 
300 yards from the Australians, and, cutting this into lengths, 
began to put this down on a sort of dot-and-dash principle — 
a piece of tape, a gap, a piece of tape, another gap, and so on. 

Laying out a tape on a compass bearing, when you don't 
know where the enemy may be, is tricky work. The Aus- 
tralians had told him that the Bosches were somewhere around, 
so Captain Browning put out his runner about fifty yards in 
front with a rifle to act as a covering party, and bent to his job. 

He had done about a hundred yards, and was stooping down, 
when someone bumped into him. He stood up and asked 
angrily — those of us who know him can imagine the glance of 
gentle indignation through the monocle ! — where the first H 
in //alifax the intruder was coming to. Then he saw, to his 


annoyance, that it was a German — bother these Germans ! 
they were always meddling with a fellow's job — and became 
acutely conscious that he himself was carrying only a stick. 
However, it was explained to the German that he was a prisoner, 
he was made to throw down his rifle, and thereafter he amiably 
strolled along with Captain Browning while the tape-laying 

Another 150 yards along five more Bosches were encountered 
coming from the direction of our lines. They fell in with the 
idea of the game at once, began " Kamerading " with all their 
hearts, threw down their rifles, and joined the procession. At 
this point Captain Browning thought it well to withdraw his 
covering party (one man), and use it as escort to prisoners 
(see Field Service Regulations re initiative of commander on 
the spot in arranging local protection). Six more Bosches were 
bumped into near the derelict German tank already mentioned, 
and added to the party, and when at last the tape-laying was 
finished, the whole party was handed over to the runner to be 
taken back. Just as he was on his way back with them another 
ten came up out of the darkness and surrendered. 

It was now past 9.30 p.m., and when the assaulting com- 
panies were ready to get away, the barrage had already moved 
forward, so short had been the notice given for the attack. 

Things were now getting very lively, the Germans throwing 
a lot of stuff about, twice blowing up the Bedfordshire Regiment's 

The assaulting companies moved off " into the blue " — or 
rather, into the black — with little information except that their 
objective was something over 2,000 yards ahead. Our line was 
very thin, the men being extended to five paces. Most of them 
were lads of under nineteen, some of the reinforcements hurried 
out from England when the Bosche started his push in March, 
but all were very keen and in good spirits. 

The platoons came under machine-gun fire almost at once, 
and a number of officers and other ranks fell. But the rest 
pushed on, reached a belt of our own wire, trickled through, 
and dealt with a number of Germans in shell-holes and slits 
beyond, who promptly gave themselves up. Then in the dark- 
ness, lit up now and then by German star shells, the line pushed 
steadily on, till at last it was thought they were on their final 
objective, and orders were given to get down and dig in. 

By this time only two officers were left, 2nd-Lieutenant 
W. Tysoe and 2nd-Lieutenant E. J. Scott, and they decided to 
halve the battalion front. 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe was on the 
left, and in touch with the Australians ; but 2nd-Lieutenant 
Scott could find nothing but Bosches on the right, so our flank 
on that side was in the air. 2nd-Lieutenant Scott therefore 
borrowed a platoon from the Australians, and then sent out 
a patrol on his right, who found the Germans working round 
behind us. 


Ammunition was by this time running out, but one of our 
old dumps was found in front, and this was distributed. This 
piece of good fortune was largely due to Private G. A. Hughes, 
who was awarded the MM. " He went forward [says the 
official account] to find an ammunition dump which was believed 
to exist about 150 yards in front of the line. He located it, 
and later took a party and succeeded in getting five boxes back 
to the front line when ammunition was urgently needed. When 
this was completed, he again went out on several occasions and 
managed to bring in wounded men, in spite of the heavy machine- 
gun fire which went on throughout the night." 

Just before dawn Captain Browning managed to get up to 
the front line to see the situation for himself, and to mark the 
line on a map. He then returned, promising to send up rations 
and water. 

At dawn 2nd-Lieutenant Scott came across to 2nd-Lieutenant 
Tysoe, reported his rather difficult position in view of the fact 
that the Germans still appeared to be working round his flank, 
and said he would go back for orders. He started off with his 
batman, but was wounded and taken prisoner on the way, and 
from this point 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe was alone and in command 
of the whole situation. 

For a time things were quiet, except for pretty constant 
sniping by both sides, the Bosche trickling reinforcements into 
his front line. 2nd- Lieutenant Tysoe took advantage of this 
comparative lull to reorganize the remnants of the battahon, 
dividing the men into thirties, just wherever they happened to 
be, and putting them under N.C.Os. as platoon commanders. 
By this time his " staff " consisted of Company Sergeant-Major 
O. H. Kirby (who acted as second-in-command) and a number 
of N.C.Os. who took command of the little scattered groups. 
These included the following, the details of their good work 
being quoted from the official accounts on which they were 
awarded medals : — 

Sergeant G. H. Holloway, D.C.M., "was left in charge of a 
considerable part of the front line after a successful counter- 
attack in which nearly all officers became casualties. Owing 
to the attack on cither flank being held up, the battalion was 
for a considerable time dn a precarious position, and it was 
largely due to his great determination and personal example 
that the front line maintained its ground, in spite of several 
attempts by the enemy to cut it off." 

Sergeant H. G. Robinson, D.C.M. : " After all the officers of 
his company and the company sergeant-major had become 
casualties, he took command of the men of his own and other 
companies in his part of the line, and organized the defence 
of the position gained, which they hung on to all the following 
day till relieved, though under heavy fire and almost sur- 


Sergeant J. Boness, D.C.M. : " Time after time he rallied his 
men, keeping them together and inspiring confidence. Regard- 
less of danger, he with a few men rushed a machine gun which 
was causing a good deal of trouble and put it out of action." 

It now became of vital importance to report the situation 
to the rear, and 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe sent two runners back 
to try and get a message through. Both disappeared, so two 
more were sent out. Later on one of them. Private A. G. Bailey, 
arrived back without equipment or helmet, and said that he 
had been attacked by Germans, and his companion killed or 
wounded. This was the first definite information that the 
battalion was surrounded. Private Bailey, who already wore 
the M.M., was awarded a bar for his work that day, the official 
account reading : — 

He left the line with a message for battalion headquarters. 
On the way he was attacked by a Bosche patrol, his companion 
being wounded. He shot three of the enemy in rapid succes- 
sion, and in the confusion this caused escaped with his message." 

Germans could now be seen moving all around, and the 
Australians on the left reported their left flank in the air and the 
Bosche in the wood. 

At about 8 a.m. two Germans were seen approaching with a 
white flag, and it shows the confidence with which the Bedford- 
shiie Regiment — nearly all of them mere boys, under a junior 
subaltern who, at any rate, was not of very advanced years — 
was holding out, though surrounded and cut off, that they 
actually thought the Germans were coming in to surrender. 
They were conducted to and-Lieutenant Tysoe's shell-hole by 
a sergeant of the Machine Gun Corps, attached to the Bedford- 
shire I^egiment, who took the opportunity to report that his 
flank was almost completely surrounded. 

The party consisted of a German sergeant-major, who spoke 
good English, and a private as flag-bearer. On arrival they 
demanded of 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe, to his great annoyance, 
that he should surrender to avoid further unnecessary blood- 
shed. The message from the German commander added that 
the little British force was surrounded by two divisions, and it 
would be blown out of the ground if it did not surrender. The 
German sergeant-major further confided that he had been pro- 
mised the Iron Cross for this job. 

2nd-Lieutenant TysOe's reply was a refusal, but he added 
that if the flag party liked to be blindfolded, they would be 
taken back to battahon headquarters to ask if the line was to 
surrender. The Germans agreed, promptly produced handker- 
chiefs, and were sent back blindfolded under escort of Company 
Sergeant-Major Buries and his batman. Of the escort nothing 
more was heard of for some time, and they were reported miss- 
ing until they were afterwards found to have been wounded 
and taken back through another division's area. The two 


Germans were afterwards found wandering about our lines still 

Another flag party was seen coming across some hours later, 
but 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe refused to have anything to do with 
them, and they returned. He then crept from shell-hole to 
shell-hole, and reached the Australians, and agreed with them 
to hang on. About 12 noon an Australian Brigade attacked 
and captured the Bois de I'Abbe, and restored the situation on 
the left flank. 

Owing to sniping, movement was very difficult, but Sergeant 
S. Walby volunteered to try and get back to battalion head- 
quarters with news, and succeeded. In all, this N.C.O. made 
four journeys to the rear, under fire, two of them in broad day- 
light, and his information proved most valuable. 

About I p.m. the Germans began heavy shelling, evidently 
a part of their threat to blow the little party out of the earth. 
Skipping from hole to hole to organize the defence of the ex- 
posed left flank, 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe once fell into a slit on top 
of a Bosche who was reading a letter. Without apologizing for 
the interruption, he managed to be first with his revolver, 
and the German surrendered. He was sent back alone to the 

Just about this time Private F. Millward, a signaller, appeared 
with a sand-bag full of rations, and volimteered to distribute 
them. As a matter of fact the need for rations, which at one 
time had been rather acute, had now been overcome, the men 
having found iron rations and bottles of coffee in German equip- 
ment which had been hastily discarded when the enemy vacated 
the position. Millward did much good work that day, and was 
awarded the M.M., the official account stating that " he made 
continuous efforts to get in touch with battalion headquarters 
on the lamp, both by day and night, thus exposing himself to 
very heavy machine-gun fire. These efforts proving of no avail, 
he volunteered as a runner and took messages. Later he dis- 
tributed rations along the front line in broad daylight, while 
machine-gun fire was continuously sweeping the line." 

The shelling and machine-gun fire continued. Towards dusk 
much German movement was apparent on the right, and an 
attack appeared to be preparing at our rear. 2nd-Lieutenant 
Tysoe decided that something must be done, and formed a 
defensive flank with four of his roughly organized platoons, 
about 100 men in all. 

At dark the Germans attacked this flank, but did not seem 
particularly strong, and our fellows, with splendid spirit, jumped 
up and went for them with the bayonet, driving them off. 

About midnight a message came through from Captain 
Browning saying that the French would probabl)' relieve the 
Bedfordshire Regiment, but the hours passed with nothing 
happening, except for occasional encounters with German patrols. 


Towards 4 a.m. the Australians on the left moved oflf, after re- 
porting that the French were formed up for a counter-attack 
behind us. 

2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe then decided to get back if possible. 
It was still dark, but he took a compass bearing on the west 
corner of the Bois de I'Abbe, and got his men out by platoons, 
passing through three lines of French on the way. 

For his fine work on that occasion 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe was 
awarded the D.S.O., the official account stating that — 

" He showed the greatest skill and ability in organizing and 
consolidating the line after a successful counter-attack. He 
was the only company officer left, and had command of the whole 
front line held by the battalion. 

" Throughout the night of the 24th-25th he worked un- 
ceasingly under very heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, 
with his right flank exposed. 

" During the evening of the 25th the enemy, after putting 
down a heavy barrage, launched an attack, and succeeded in 
advancing through the gap on the right of the battalion. 2nd- 
Lieutenant Tysoe at once counter-attacked on his own initia- 
tive with as many men as he could get together and drove the 
enemy back. 

" This fine example of gallantry and leadership by this young 
officer was entirely instrumental in holding the ground gained 
with many young soldiers who were in action for the first time." 

The Brigade was now withdrawn, and went into rest west of 
Amiens, until the war was resumed, so far as they wero con- 
cerned, in a new sector. 

Chapter XV 


/^N May 5th, igi8, the Brigade moved to the Albert sector, 
^^ and for over two months returned to the old routine of trench 
warfare. The line was within about 500 yards of the western 
edge of Albert, and the battalion were on ground familiar to 
them from their earliest experiences in the autumn of 1915, 
the front line they now held having been a part of the support 
system in those far-olT days. Ahead of them, beyond Albert, 
lay Fricourt, Montauban, Trones Wood, Thiepval, and many 
another place of proud memories. 

It was a comparatively good sector, but, unfortunately, at 
the time of our arrival the retention of the spur (the high ground 
before Albert) had assumed considerable importance. Cap- 
tured hostile maps clearly indicated that the enemy were of 
the same opinion. Officers from higher commands continually 
visited us, urged the importance of holding on, spoke of the 
honour of dying at one's post, and bade us an affectionate fare- 

The exact moment of the attack was said to be known, so 
we trembled and waited, and waited and trembled, later ceased 
to trouble, and eventually becoming thoroughly bored. 

This boredom was considerably enlivened by the arrival of 
a general officer of cavalry, who rode with his staff up to a certain 
company headquarters ^n broad daylight. The true cavalry 
spirit of adventure appeared to be thoroughly ingrained in all 
his squadron leaders, who rode all over the sector, with hosts 
of retainers. These cheery and plucky visitors proved a trifle 
expensive, as the enemy noticed the show, and headquarters 
were soon afterwards completely des'troyed by shell fire as a 

Later on we moved across and took up a sector alongside the 
Australians holding Ville sur Ancre, where we renewed a friend- 
ship which had commenced so happily during the Villers Breton- 
neux attack. Small parties of American troops were attached 
to us during this period, and battalion commanders were in- 
structed to offer them every facility for seeing and taking part 
in trench routine. This was evidently very thoroughly done, 
as one American officer, on return to Brigade headquarters, 
stated that he was now thoroughly acquainted with every 
missile which was fired from every piece of ordnance in the 
German Army. 


During the Brigade's tour of duty in this sector battalions 
in reserve were camped in Henencourt Wood, and of a rest 
period of the Bedfordshire Regiment in this spot a story is 
told which may be received or rejected at pleasure. 

One of the men got a Httle muddled through an error in 
estimating his powers of resistance in the matter of French 
wine, and lost his bayonet. Then, to his consternation, he 
found that there was to be an inspection by the General the 
next morning, so he made friends with one of the pioneers, 
who fixed him up with a wooden bayonet for the parade, for- 
getting the necessity of being able to obey the command, " Fix 

When this order came in due course next day, the unfortunate 
soldier was naturally discovered by his company commander 
as being the only man without his bayonet fixed. Sternly the 
O.C. company reprimanded him, and ordered him to get his 
bayonet fixed at once. With almost commendable quickness 
of thought, the man assumed a painful expression, and, with a 
break in his voice, said : " Sir, this is the anniversary of my 
mother's death, and I have taken an oath never to fix my 
bayonet on this particular day." 

By this time the Brigadier had arrived, and it was evident 
that a crisis was imminent. With his usual rapid and com- 
prehensive glance lound the Brigadier at once fixed on the 
one weak spot, even though the man had been concealed in 
the rear rank of the rear platoon. A quivering company com- 
mander accompanied the General at once to the wretched 
bayonetless soldier. On interrogation once again, the man 
(with rather less confidence than the first time) replied with the 
same yarn concerning his mother. But the General had by 
this time seen what was the matter, and decided to work out 
the situation to its logical conclusion. " Fix your bayonet 
at once," he demanded, " and don't stand there discussing 
your home affairs. Now then, jump to it !" 

But the man was not yet defeated, and his remaining presence 
of mind enabled him to play out his part to the end. Drawing 
his wooden substitute from its scabbard, he exclaimed ; " Sir, 
I must obey your command, but may the Lord strike it into a 
wooden one !" As the wooden bayonet fell at the General's 
feet the man stood stiffly at attention, and must have felt the 
utmost relief when he saw the General unsuccessfully try to 
repress a suggestion of a smile. The man had won. 

It was during this period that another change took place in 
the Brigade, the 7th (Service) Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment 
ceasing to exist, and being replaced by the 2nd Battalion, one 
of the fine battalions of the regiment. 

The reorganization of Brigades on a three-battalion basis had 
led to the disbanding of a number of service battalions. The 
1 2th Middlesex Regiment had already gone (as mentioned in 


Chapter XIII). Now it was decided that the Bedfordshire 
Regiment must lose its junior service battalion, which happened 
to be the 7th, and it was replaced in the Brigade by the 2nd Bat- 
talion, which up to this time had been serving with the 90th 
Brigade of the 30th Division. 

As a matter of fact, it was, so far as this Brigade was con- 
cerned, little more than a change of number. Practically all 
the officers and other ranks of the old 7th remained, the officers 
and other ranks of the 2nd arriving like a draft. To all intents 
and purposes the 7th was simply renumbered as the 2nd, and 
retained the commanding officer, second-in-command, adjutant, 
and other officers under whom the service battalion had won 
its spurs. 

Apart from patrols and minor raids, the chief operation of 
the Brigade in this sector was that undertaken against the Ger- 
man defences at the north-west corner of Albert, known as the 
" Hairpin." This was carried out on the night of June 30th- 
July 1st. 

" The position [writes an officer who took part in the attack] 
was peculiar. The front line trenches of both sides mainly 
consisted of deepened remains of the old French defences. 
Both front lines were almost on a level on the top of a small 
hill. The standing corn amongst the trenches and partly in 
No Man's Land largely concealed the view. In our own divi- 
sional area there was only one communication trench, on which 
the Bosche 5 9's registered with remarkable accuracy. This 
made. the getting up of the large amount of stores, ammunition, 
wire, etc., a lengthy business, and most of it had to be done 
overland during the night. Fully a week was occupied in 
forming the necessary dumps and camouflaging them, and this 
was carried out successfully, no shell or trench mortar hitting 
any dump or destroying the camouflage. 

" The possession of the line given as the objective would give 
us complete command of the northern end of Albert and the 
Ancre Valley to the north, and would probably render the 
enemy's positions east of the river untenable. It was there- 
fore obvious that the enemy would put up a strong resistance, 
and would probably sacrifice a great deal to retake his original 
line, if lost." 

The assaulting battalions were the Northamptonshires on the 
right and the Bedfordshires on the left, and an elaborate scheme 
for the attack, in which machine guns, trench mortars, gas, 
smoke, and of course plenty of artillery, all played a part, was 
drawn up. It was to be a night attack, and the novel plan was 
adopted of keeping direction by means of flame tracer bullets, 
Lewis guns firing these tracers on lines which defined the flanks 
of the assaulting platoons. 

The " Hairpin " system curved across our front in such a 
way as to suggest an attack from the rear. Thus, while one 


platoon of the Northamptonshire Regiment made a frontal 
attack, other platoons, from a point farther south, were to 
advance north-east, cross the trench, work along the east side 
of it, and attack from the rear. The Bedfordshire Regiment 
was to do much the sarne thing, the right of their attack cross- 
ing the enemy front line at a selected point, then left-wheel- 
ing and taking it in the rear. 

Following closely on the heels of the assaulting companies 
were to be wiring parties, to wire promptly the far side of the 
trench, as a part of the consolidation scheme. 

Orders issued by the Northamptonshire Regiment detailed 
" B " (commanded by 2nd-Lieutenant B. Martin) as the 
assaulting company, and " D " (commanded by Captain 
Gillott) as the wiring company. The Bedfordshire Regiment 
detailed " B " company for the assault and " C " for wiring. 

Zero hour was 9.35 p.m. on June 30th. Gas had been put 
over on our right, to keep the enemy in that part of the line as 
much amused as possible, and smoke was put over that part 
of his front which we were to attack. This had the desired 
effect of making him put his gas-masks on. 

Guided by the glowing lines of the tracer-bullets, the assault- 
ing platoons pushed forward to their objectives, closely followed 
by the wiring parties. A few prisoners were taken and quite 
a fair number killed in the small mine-shafts the enemy had 
commenced in his trenches. The attack was evidently a sur- 
prise, as many of the Germans had their boots off. 

The Northamptonshires secured their objective without 
trouble from the enemy, and their wiring company was ex- 
tremely quick in putting out the wire, which was all in position 
before the smoke and dust of the barrage had cleared. 

The Bedfordshire Regiment had rather a deeper objective, 
and met a good deal of machine-gun fire from their left Hank, 
and some brickworks to their front, but the objective was 
reached. The wiring company were considerably hampered 
by machine-gun fire, and were unable to complete their work, 
although a good deal of wire was erected. 

After II p.m. the front was again quiet, except for machine- 
gun fire, and the work of consolidation was pushed on. Com- 
panies of the Fusiliers were engaged in digging communication 
trenches between our old front line and the German line which 
we had taken. 

Dawn on July ist saw the beginning of a series of counter- 
attacks, which eventually led up to the enemy regaining com- 
plete possession of his old line. 

Signallers had some bright moments while trying to keep touch 
with the assaulting companies. Touch having been lost with 
the Northamptonshire Regiment, Lieutenant C. H. Webb, 
Brigade Signal Officer, crawled up in the early hours of the 
ist, and managed to establish lamp communication from a 


platoon within about fifty yards of an orchard held by the Ger- 
mans. For this and other good work that day he was awarded 
the M.C., the official record reading : — 

" He proceeded to the front line, having to craw! most of the 
way, and being continually subjected to grazing machine-gun 
fire. He established communication successfully. The same 
day, having ascertained the forward end of the ' loop set ' 
[a portable wireless plant] had been damaged, he at once pro- 
cured a spare set, and went up and re-established communica- 
tion within thirty yards of the enemy." 

It was too much to expect that the official account would 
give the best point of the little adventure. Lieutenant Webb 
had crawled up with his wireless, set up his wires above the 
parapet, and was feeling very full of heart and satisfied with 
the war, when a runner arrived breathlessly from the Brigadier 
and gasped out : " General's comphments, sir, and for good- 
ness sake take that thing down ! You're within thirty yards 
of the enemy." So, amid a parting .splutter of machine-gun 
bullets, the wires were taken down. 

Private J. Stevens, of the Northamptonshire Regiment, did 
good work with the forward end of the " wireless " set which 
went over with the assaulting company. Under heavy fire 
he erected the station, and within half an hour after reaching 
the captured German trench was in touch with battalion head- 
quarters. At one time our artillery was firing short, and the 
speed with which he was able to get off a message asking for 
the range to be altered undoubtedly saved many lives. 

Lieutenant W. S. Oliver- J ones, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, 
was in charge of a party detailed to push beyond his battalion's 
objective to a sunken road, and clear out some dug-outs there. 
Owing to casualties, he had only six men with him when he 
arrived there, but he carried out the work successfully, per- 
sonally blowing up the dug-outs before withdrawing. Several 
prisoners were taken and a number of (iermans killed in the 
dug-outs, about fifty being accounted for in all. For this he 
was awarded the M.C. Similar awards were made to Lieu- 
tenant H. B. Steward (Bedfordshire Regiment) and 2nd-Lieu- 
tenant Martin (Northamptonshire Regiment), who led the 
assaulting companies. 

All through the morning of July ist the Germans made 
heavy bombing attacks on the captured trenches, and at dusk 
attacked under a heavy barrage of 59's and 8-inchers. Our 
Lewis guns succeeded in holding this up short of the old enemy 
front line, but he succeeded in regaining his old support line. 
Bombing blocks were established in his old communication trenches 
and held against bombing attacks during the morningof the and. 

Mixed fighting took place most of the day, in which large 
quantities of bombs were used, so that it was hoped the Bosche 
would not make another effort until dawn on the 3rd, by which 


time we should have been relieved by the 8th East Surrey 
Regiment. The hope, however, was not fulfilled, and again 
at dusk the enemy attacked under a heavy barrage. After 
heavy fighting he succeeded in regaining his old front line all 
along the front, except in a small portion of the 1 2th Divisional 
front (on our left). This was evacuated during the morning 
of the 3rd. The East Surrey I^egiment had come up to relieve, 
but were sent back. The old line was held during the day, 
and then handed over to the East Surrey Regiment. 

In view of the shortage of front and lack of depth in objec- 
tive, our chances of success were problematical, for the enemy 
was known to be fairly strong in artillery, and in his counter- 
attacks used all guns within range. 

Some good work was done in those trying days when the 
battalions were trying to hold on to the captured trenches. 

Sergeant C. Clarke, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, won the 
D.C.M. On the evening of July 2nd he was sent up to take 
over a platoon which had just had its officer and sergeant killed. 
" On the way up [says the official account] he had to pass 
through an enemy barrage. He was blown up and buried by 
a shell, wounded in two places, and his helmet and rifle iwere 
destroyed. On being dug out, he procured another helmet and 
rifle, proceeded to his post, and took command of all available 
men near him. In the close fighting which occurred immedi- 
ately on his arrival he showed a fine example of courage, pro- 
ceeding at once to the threatened spot, organizing a bombing 
attack, and clearing a considerable portion of enemy trench. 
He refu.sed to leave to have his wounds dressed till next morning." 

During this period Captain P. J. Reiss won a bar to his M.C. 
. " From 7 to 9 p.m. |says the official account] the new trench 
was very heavily shelled, and blown in in many places, followed 
by an infantry attack. During the whole of the bombardment 
Captain Reiss continued to encourage his men, and when the 
barrage lifted, he placed himself in the position of the greatest 
danger at the head of a communication trench. There with a 
handful of men he made a magnificent resistance, and held up 
a large number of the enemy. He threw over two boxes of 
bombs himself, and with the aid of his men was actually press- 
ing back the enemy, when he was attacked from both sides, 
and forced to withdraw, being himself the last to leave." 

Two good stories of this show are told by the signallers. 
The first concerns the final touch to the preparations. The 
scene is the Brigade battle post, and the time half an hour 
before zero. One of the heroes of the story tells it as follows : — 

" The N.C.O. in charge was engaged in giving final instruc- 
tions to the signallers manning the station. ' Don't forget 
these light signals, you chaps,' he said. 'A red and green pair 
of lights is the success signal, one red light is for artillery to 
lengthen range, one green is for artillery support, and we are 
to repeat all signals.' 


" In a short time the General appeared, for it was from this 
tiny hole in the ground that he would direct operations. As 
soon as he appeared the signallers sprang to their instruments, 
and everything was ready. Suddenly, with a terrific crash, 
the bombardment opened. Soon various coloured lights began 
to light up the sky, to be instantly repeated at Brigade battle 
post. The battle had started, and the signallers were soon 
working at high pressure. Lamps flashed their messages to and 

fro, telling how the operation was proceeding. Private B , 

who was in charge of all light rockets, arranged his stock to a 
nicety on the parapet. 

" Suddenly from the front burst the red and green pair — the 
success signal. At once the (ieneral gave the order for the 
signal to be repeated, so that all the people who were co-oper- 
ating with the infantry should know how the situation stood. 

B snatched a Very light from the pile, then stopped. 

' Hurry up,' whispered the N.C.O. ' I cannot fire two at once, 

corporal,' said B ■ ; ' I have only one pistol.' The N.C.O. 

gave a groan. ' Do your best, then.' 

" B fired, and then tried to fire again, but the first light 

had gone out before he could get the next off. With a smothered 
remark which may have been a congratulation, but was probably 
not, the General strode forward. ' Give me the pistol,' he 

ordered. B did so, and handed the General a light also. 

The General fired, and a green Hare was the result. He snatched 

the second from B 's outstretched hand and fired again. 

All eyes watched the tiny bead of light as it rose and then burst — 
green again ! An awful silence, then a gasp from the General. 

B turned sickly pale and his knees knocked. Then the 

General burst out with — well, at any rate, it wasn't a con- 
gratulation. The N.C.O. 's hair turned white in a single moment, 
and thoughts of suicide flashed through his mind. ' Cancel 
light signals," the General shouted. The battle post instantly 
became a hive of industry. Lamps flashed, and an agonized 
telephonist bawled down his instrument. Soon order was res- 
tored, the General departed, and B began to breathe again." 

The other story is thus told by the Bedfordshires : — 

" The Bedfordshires were holding the line they had captured 
the day before, and the Bosche was strafing it pretty badly, 
but not sufficiently to justify our sending up the S.O.S. Still, 
we sent up the S.O.S., but not altogether according to plan. 

" A private soldier was responsible for the mistake, and 
quite by accident set light to the rocket. Out rushed the com- 
pany commander, exclaiming, ' My hat ! can I wash that signal 
out ?' — but he was too late in getting a ladder to fetch the rocket 
down. The result was an intense mutual strafe between our 
artillery and the Bosche, much to the dislike of the poor infantry." 

The tour in this sector came to an end soon afterwards, and 
after a short rest to the west of Amiens, returned to the line 
at the end of July. 

Chapter XVI 


'IIT'ITH August began what the Army has agreed to call " The 
'''' Hundred Days' Victory," which ended in the crowning 
mercy of the Armistice, as Napoleon's famous Hundred Days' 
Defeat ended in the crowning mercy of Waterloo. 

Having relieved troops of the Australian Corps in the line 
on the night of July 3oth-3ist, the Brigade at the beginning 
of August was holding the front from the Somme, just west of 
Sailly Laurette, northwards to a point 500 yards south of the 
Bray-Corbie road — something a little over 2,500 yards. The 
f^usiliers were on the right, and the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment on the left, with the Bedfordshire Regiment in reserve 
behind Sailly-le-Sec. Brigade headquarters were in the cliffs 
just north of the Somrae, about 400 yards west of Vaux. 

On the night of August 2nd-3rd the Bedfordshire Regiment 
reheved the other -two battalions in the front line, the latter 
going into reserve to prepare for the proposed offensive to be 
carried out at a later date. 

It was a period of heavy thunderstorms and much mud. 
The Australians, from whom we took over this sector, had been 
carrying out an aggressive policy for several weeks — " Them 
Aussies are real rough with Jerry !" as a private in one of the 
relieving battalions was heard to remark — and this did not tend 
to improve the trench system, for the Germans were still capable 
of hitting back quite in their old style. The Australian policy 
had been to allow the enemy to dig a front and support line, 
and when this was nearing completion to attack and capture 
it ; and as an attack of this nature had taken place the night 
before we took over, the front was still in an active state. Our 
lines consisted of a great number of trenches, the forward ones 
only half dug, and by August 6th they were knee-deep in mud. 

It is good to see the pleasures of trench warfare, now so soon 
to come to an end, from some other point of view than that of 
the P.B.I. — you can tell her that means " Poor Bloomin' In- 
fantry " — so the following notes on this period by Captain 
R. Weir, M.C., of the 8oth Field Company R.E., are of in- 
terest : — 

" On August 3rd, 1918, the company received orders to con- 
struct brigade and battalion battle-posts on the south side of 
the Bray-Corbie road, to be finished in the usual incredibly 
short time. 

161 M 


" In the afternoon I set out with the Brigade Major to inspect 
the site of operations, armed with maps, hopelessly out of date ; 
but the General had said the dug-outs were to be ' just beside 
the old windmill,' and a trench map must surely be superfluous. 
As usual in a new sector, we seemed to take every wrong turning 
possible in the communication trench, and eventually arrived 
at what our maps said was the front line. If the front line, 
then someone must occupy it, so we turned northwards along 
a fairly decent trench. 

" We had gone but a short distance before the trench suddenly 
came to dead end, and further careful consideration of the map 
became necessary. This helped but little, and we got out on 
top. We found that the trench started again about fifty yards 
farther on, and made a dive for it. It was fairly good, but 
after following it for 300 or 400 yards we became alarmed at 
the total absence of garrison. Not a soul had we seen since 
leaving Five Minute Valley, and the whole trench seemed to be 
littered with Bosche equipment, but not the slightest evidence 
that the British had ever been there. 

" To meet the Bosche would be better than this loneliness, 
so we pushed on. We hadn't gone very far before coming to 
a cross-trench, with a very small dug-out on the corner. I 
suppose we had disturbed the occupant, for on going to the 
entrance an extremely sleepy sergeant looked out. Here at 
last was the garrison. » ' Who are you ?' demanded the Brigade 
Major. ' Trench mortars, sir.' ' Where is the nearest company' 
headquarters ?' ' Don't know, sir.' ' Well, don't ration parties 
pass this way ?' ' No, sir.' ' How long have you been here ?' 
' Three days, sir.' ' Well, if you haven't seen anybody, how do 
you get your rations ?' ' Brought three days' with me, sir.' 
' Where is the front line ?' ' This is it, sir, and the outpost 
is just in front.' 

" We resumed our trudge, but had not made more than 300 
yards when we got hopelessly tied up in a mixture of half-dug 
trenches, and as it was getting late we decided to return and 
get more definite information. 

" Next morning I went off with a more up-to-date map that 
someone had discovered, and very soon had my men started 
on the new quarters. The sector was the most remarkable 1 
had ever worked in. One could leave Five Minute Valley, 
visit the front line, tour its whole length and return, and not 
see a single soul beyond one's own working party. Happening 
to pay a night visit to the line on the 5th, the mystery was 
solved for me — the Brigade had resolved into a carrying party, 
taking ammunition, etc., to the most forward positions. 

" The enemy attack on the morning of the 6th upset all the 
fine calculations. As is always the case in such affairs, the 
situation remained quite obscure until late in the morning, but 
it seemed fairly certain that any men working in the dug-outs 


at the time of the attack must surely be taken prisoners or 
killed. The shift on the job at the time consisted of twenty- 
two sappers and one officer. As soon as it became clear what 
had happened, I hurried off to the forward billets in Five Minute 
Valley. There I found every soul asleep, and totally unaware 
that the Bosche was within a few hundred yards. The working 
shift had not returned, nor had the officer, 2nd-Lieutenant 
Mackay. It was at once evident that the whole lot had been 
caught unawares and captured. It has since transpired that 
only one man was out on top at the time, and in going down 
to warn his mates was trapped with the rest. 

" These forward billets were now, as billets, a little too for- 
ward, and, with the sanction of the G.O.C., the men were with- 
drawn. A motley lot they were, half asleep, each carrying 
a dixie, or such, and, not having sufficiently grasped the situa- 
tion, terribly fed up. As luck would have it, the officer in charge 
of the new battalion headquarters had been wounded about 
midnight of the 5th, and was on his way to the casualty clearing- 
station instead of going to Germany. 

" The battle of August 8th opened as all good battles should — ■ 
with the sappers standing by ready to dig strong points whenever 
it became known that the infantry had advanced to their limit. 
We were to work for a strange Brigade, however, the 54th 
having been relieved by the 36th during the previous night. 

" The 36th Brigade were so unfortunate as to be total strangers 
to this sector, and, to make things worse, the dawn broke in 
an extremely dense fog, and everybody was hopelessly lost. 

" As time went on Brigade got extremely nervy ; no runner 
had arrived from the attacking battalions, tanks were coming 
back into ' stable ' as if the show were over, and not a man in 
Brigade headquarters dare go a hundred yards from his 
quarters for fear of losing his way. In the end the General 
consented to be guided, and off we went in search of the lost 
battalions. While doing this little tour the fog broke a little, 
and by the time we had interviewed everybody we met, and 
located the last battalion in the Quarry beside the Bray-Corbie 
road, things began to clear up a bit. 

" Next day the Americans carried the line well on towards 
Bray, and to guard against accidents we erected a strong belt 
of wire along the crest just in front of the final line of the first 

" The company rejoined the 54th Brigade at Hennecourt on 
the loth." 

It should be pointed out, in passing, that this area was familiar 
to the Brigade as the scene of their earliest experiences in the 
line, and from now onwards they were fighting over ground 
which they had known in 19 15 and 19 16. 

But to return now to the doings of the rest of the Brigade. 


A rather ticklish business was down for the night of August 
5th-6th, and the Germans took a hand in no very helpful spirit. 

The 54th Brigade (then represented in the front line by the 
Bedfordshire Regiment) were to be relieved by the 174th Brigade 
(58th Division), and were, in their turn, to side-step to the north 
and relieve the 55th Brigade astride the Bray-Corbie road. The 
Bedfordshires themselves were to be relieved by the 8th London 
Regiment, and then, side-stepping northwards, were to relieve 
the 7th East Surrey Regiment, with their left on the road. 
Obviously the latter relief could not begin till the Londons had 
relieved the Bedfordshires. This side-slipping relief by the Bed- 
fordshires was ordered to preserve quite fresh the other two 
battalions of the Brigade for an assault on the 8th. 

A relief is not an easy job at the best of times, and two reliefs 
in one night are just twice as bad. In addition, all the con- 
ditions were very unfavourable. The lines of approach which 
the relieving troops had to use had been systematically shelled 
for nights past, the ground was very muddy, the " going " 
very bad both in and out of the trenches, and the night was very 

In view of all this, O.C. Bedfordshire Regiment arranged for 
the relief to begin at 8.15 p.m., but heard late in the evening 
that the 174th Brigade had altered this to y.30 p.m., and it 
was, as a matter of fact, exactly 10 p.m. before the guides were 
able to start. The relieving troops were very tired. 

By 3.30 a.m. on the 6th this part of the rehef was still incom- 
plete, and O.C. Bedfordshire Regiment sent his adjutant to 
O.C. East Surrey Regiment to inform him of this fact, and to 
say that he intended to relieve the piquet, support, and reserve 
lines by daylight, which the mist and the formation of the 
ground allowed. The Bedfordshire Regiment's adjutant was 
actually with O.C. East Surrey Regiment arranging this when 
the German attack started. Matters were the more difficult 
as communication with the front line was very slow, owing to 
mist and mud, wires being useless owing to shelling. 

The relief of the nth Royal Fusiliers and 6th Northampton- 
shire Regiment was equally slow, and was not completed till 
about 430 a.m. 

Shortly after 4 a.m., while the rehef of the Bedfordshire 
Regiment by the London Regiment was still incomplete, the 
Germans introduced a quite unnecessary complication by put- 
ting down a heavy artillery and trench-mortar barrage, at the 
same time throwing gas shells in and around Brigade head- 
quarters at Vaux, one falling be'tween the General's and the 
Brigade Major's huts. This barrage was followed by a heavy 
hostile infantry attack, pushed with great determination, 
regardless of losses. 

A great part of our outpost line was pierced and overrun, 
both on that part still held by the unrelieved companies of the 


Bedfordshire Regiment and on the adjoining northward sector, 
held by the East Surrey Regiment, who were awaiting relief 
by the Bedfordshire Regiment. However, the Bedfordshiies 
holding the piquet line stopped the (ierman advance on their 
front, and, counter-attacking at once with their local supports, 
drove back the enemy to the original line, which was later 
handed over to the London Regiment. 

A little later two companies of the Bedfordshire Regiment in 
support cleared up the situation in the rear of the East Surrey 
Regiment immediately south of the Bray-Corbie road, cap- 
turing two of the enemy, releasing several of our men who had 
been taken prisoners, and occupying the Cobar Trench in front 
of the cemetery and quarry. 

Some good work was done at this stage by Lieutenant D. P. 
Cross, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, commanding the company 
in the first line. Although both flanks of the position were 
turned when the enemy overran the outpost line, he held his 
ground, offering such a stubborn resistance, and giving such 
vigorous assistance to our counter-attack, that he must be 
regarded as very largely responsible for restoring the line and 
arresting the German advance at this point. It was a good 
example of the value of small bodies of troops holding their 
ground even when surrounded, as the success of a local counter- 
attack is thereby materially assisted. This officer won the 
M.C. for his action on that occasion. 

Another M.C. was won here by Lieutenant R. T. Oldfield, 
also of the Bedfordshire Regiment. " When the hostile barrage 
lifted off his trench Tsays the official account], he discovered 
the enemy occupying the trench on his left. He at once made 
a bomb-block, and moved a section of his platoon to prevent the 
enemy working farther round his flank. Shortly afterwards he 
was heavily attacked, but beat the attack off with rifle and 
Lewis-gun fire, and finally, by a series of small local enter- 
prises, forced the enemy on his front completely out of the 
support system." 

Other awards made in connection with good work at this 
stage are worth quoting as illustrating the desperate character 
of the fighting. 

Corporal W. A. Ellis, D.C.M. : " About dawn on the bth was 
in charge of the remnant of his platoon, which had already 
suffered serious casualties. When the enemy recaptured the 
forward posts, he went forward with a small party and a Lewis 
gun for an immediate counter-attack. His action was the means 
of restoring a large portion of our outpost line, and the capture 
of eighteen of the enemy and three machine guns. By his 
initiative, courage, and example he waS able to carry his small 
command with him cheerfully through an exceptionally trying 
ordeal, and successfully beat off several attacks." 

1 66 

Corporal W. Pennycock, D.C.M. : " Ascertaining that the 
enemy had penetrated the front, he hurried back to his platoon, 
and so distributed them as to protect the left flank of his bat- 
talion. The enemy made three determined attacks on the 
position held by this N.C.O., and were beaten back on each 

Sergeant F. M. Sims, D.C.M. : " Collected stragglers, rapidly 
organized them into a firing line, and held off the German 
advance on his platoon's front. Finding his left flank un- 
covered, he at once established and manned a block. Through- 
out the day the position held by the platoon under his command 
was repeatedly attacked, in addition to several minor bombing 
attacks. All these attacks were beaten off by rifle and Lewis- 
gun fire." 

The Brigadier now sent to Lieutenant-Colonel Foster, com- 
manding the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment, to push out 
battle patrols, each supported by one platoon. They had 
orders to fill any gap on the main road between the Bedford- 
shire and the East Surrey Regiments, to hold up any small 
bodies of the enemy who might be moving west along the road, 
and to send back all the news they could of the situation, which 
at this time (5 a.m.) was necessarily still somewhat obscure. 
As it turned out, Colonel Foster had anticipated this order, 
and had also moved up two companies along the south of the 
road. A little later the Brigadier moved his battle post to a 
point a little west of the cemetery, where he was in closer touch 
with the situation and his battalion commanders. 

The prisoners captured a little earlier by the Bedfordshire 
Regiment had established the fact ftiat the attack was being 
carried out by battalions of the German 120th, 123rd, and 124th 
Regiments, all of the 27th Division — a Storm Division which 
had been out of the line carrying out intensive training for over 
three months. This Division must have been put in specially 
for the attack, as it relieved the 107th Division two nights 
previously. It was evident that someone in Germany wanted 
to abolish the 54th Brigade. 

By 6 a.m. the Northamptonshire Regiment was counter- 
attacking, and such good progress was made, in spite of heavy 
rifle and machine-gun fire, that by 8 a.m. much of the lost ground 
had been regained, and touch was restored with the left flank 
of the Bedfordshire Regiment. During the fighting Colonel 
Foster was wounded in the arm. 

It was decided to counter-attack at dawn on the following 
day, in order to recapture the original front, and thus to secure 
the jumping-off place for the offensive planned for the 8th. 
Our support and front lines were shelled steadily with artillery 
and trench mortars throughout the rest of the day. Several 
small local attacks were made by the enemy against the Bed- 
fordshire Regiment in Cummin's Trench and the Northampton- 


shire Regiment in ConamuUa Support, but all were beaten off 
by rifle and Lewis-gun fire. 

The counter-attack on the 7th was made by one company of 
the Bedfordshire Regiment on the right, one company of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment in the centre, and two companies 
of the Royal Fusiliers (" B " and " D ") on the left. The 
latter two companies were on the north side of the Bray-Corbie 

Our barrage came down at 4.40 a.m. on Croydon Trench, 
and five minutes later moved on to Cummin's Trench. It had 
been drizzling rain all night, the trenches were all deep in mud, 
and the morning mist made visibility very poor. In spite of 
this, touch was kept between the assaulting companies. 

The attack on the right and centre went forward success- 
fully, the Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire Regiments gain- 
ing all their objectives. Twenty-five prisoners and thirty 
machine guns, including one heavy machine gun, were taken, 
and very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy. As a matter 
of fact, the enemy was on the point of launching an attack, 
and his front-line and communication trenches were packed 
with troops, who had a very thin time when our barrage came 
down and our companies got among them. 

In the meantime things had not been going so well on the 
north of the Bray-Corbie road. A company of the 8th East 
Surrey Regiment (35th Brigade) had been placed at the disposal 
of this Brigade, and was to be placed on the left of the Royal 
Fusiliers, to form the extreme left of our line. 

Before our barrage opened, O.C. " B " Company, Royal 
Fusiliers, our left-hand company, was endeavouring to get in 
touch with this company of the East Surrey Regiment, but 
was unable to find it. Just before the attack began a further 
effort was made to find this company, but again with no result, 
and there was a gap of about 300 yards on the left of our line. 
Two platoons of Fusiliers were therefore put in to fill this gap. 

When the attack went forward, the Fusiliers, after encounter- 
ing and overcoming strong opposition in Croydon Trench, 
pushed on and captured Cloncurry Trench (which here formed 
the German front line), from where it crossed the Bray-Corbie 
road to just south of Cloud Trench. Meanwhile a platoon had 
fought its way up the latter trench and also reached Cloncurry 
Trench, where it turned south and joined up with the rest of 
the company. 

On our extreme left O.C. " B " Company, Royal Fusiliers, 
who was engaged in prolonging his left when the barrage opened, 
in the endeavour to get touch with the East Surreys, or 
at any rate to fill the gap, now advanced with two of his platoons. 
Failing to get touch on either flank, however, he withdrew on 
Burke Street, without reaching his objective. 


At 5.10 a.m. our protective barrage died down, according to 
programme, and at 6 a.m. the enemy launched four simultaneous 
counter-attacks for the recovery of Cloncurry Trench. All but 
one were beaten off. In the latter case the platoon holding 
a sector of the trench had used up all their bombs, and had to 
fall back fighting near Cloud Support. A bank running parallel 
to Croydon Trench greatly helped the enemy at this point. 

Continual artillery, trench-mortar, and machine-gun fire was 
kept on our support trenches, the head of Cloud Support be- 
coming untenable, and movement in the shallow trenches very 
difficult. A direct hit from a trench mortar knocked out a 
Lewis gun which had been doing good work near the Bray- 
Corbie road, and another strong attack gave the enemy a foot- 
ing in another portion of Cloncurry Trench, along which he 
began to bomb his way. 

" D " Company of the Fusiliers stopped these attacks till all 
their bombs were used up, and then fell back fighting on to 
Croydon Trench, where bombing blocks were established. This 
company now mustered one officer (Captain Baker, wounded) 
and three men. 

Early in the afternoon further efforts were made to get in 
touch with the East Surrey Regiment on our left, and Lieutenant 
Wixcey, of the Fusiliers, with the remnants of two platoons of 
" B " Company, pushed up Croydon Trench and retook a part 
of Cloncurry Trench, proceeding to work north and south. 
After making some progress, these parties were heavily attacked, 
and after holding out very gallantly for about half an hour 
were forced back. 

Under cover of heavy artillery and trench-mortar and machine- 
gun fire, the enemy launched powerful attacks against the 
Fusiliers about 3 p.m., and reached a part of Croydon Trench, 
but were stopped there by remnants of " B " Company and a 
Lewis gun. 

The position now was that on the north of the Bray-Corbie 
road the enemy held all Cloncurry and Croydon Trenches. A 
hostile attack had gained a slight footing on Cummin's Trench 
just south of the road, and a Lewis gun team had been com- 
pletely wiped out, but the Northamptonshire Regiment had 
regained this point. The line to the south of the road was now 
intact. A section of the trench mortar battery, with 100 
rounds per gun, was sent forward to support the Fusiliers. 

As the enemy were in great force on the north of the road, 
it was decided that no good purpose would be served by isolated 
attacks, and that a concentration of artillery and trench mortars 
should be brought to bear on the enemy, followed by a counter- 
attack at 9 p.m., after a heavy bombardment. 

Unfortunately, this plan was upset by two very gallant young 
officers of the Fusiliers, who had done good work all day, and 
fell at the head of their men early in the evening, launching a 

1 69 

counter-attack on their own initiative, before the plans for the. 
combined counter-attack had reached them. This local counter- 
attack, and a portion of the reserve having been used up, the 
battalion was useless for further effort, and the Fusiliers eventu- 
ally fell back to their original line. 

In the early hours of the 8th the Brigade covered the forming 
up of the 36th Brigade on the ConamuUa Support-Burke Trench 
line, and was then withdrawn. Although the counter-attack of 
the 7th did not wholly succeed, it held up the enemy, and con- 
tributed to the success on the 8th, when the Morlancourt Ridge 
position was carried according to programme. The 36th Brigade 
performed the task originally allotted to this Brigade, for which 
we were not available, owing to the hammering we had taken 
on the 6th and 7th. Those best qualified to form and express 
an opinion hold that, for the courage and initiative displayed 
by junior officers and N.C.Os. commanding platoons and other 
small bodies, the Brigade never had a more glorious day, in 
spite of its lack of complete success, as the day of bitter fighting 
astride the Bray-Corbie road. 

Weight for weight, the Brigade probably never inflicted such 
heavy losses on the enemy with the infantry weapons — bomb, 
bayonet, and bullet. When the ground was walked over after- 
wards, the heaps of German dead bore testimony to the hard- 
hitting of our men when, driven back from their counter-attack, 
they stood stubbornly at bay and refused to let the enemy pass. 
The Fusiliers alone threw over a hundred boxes of bombs that 
day. Prisoners captured by the Brigade between the 6th and 
8th numbered one officer and fifty-seven other ranks, and 
thirty-five machine guns were taken. 

Three officers of the Fusiliers were awarded the M.C. 

2nd-Lieutenant W. H, Measures, who commanded " C " Com- 
pany in support, " considerably helped to strengthen the situa- 
tion at two critical moments when immediate action was 
necessary, and gained most valuable information by personal 
reconnaissance. " 

2nd-Lieutenant W. Ross " was given charge of two platoons 
to support the attack in the evening. Seeing that their help 
was urgently needed, he at once brought them into action in 
a very skilful manner. Although subjected to intense machine- 
gun fire, he moved about the shallow trench freely, encouraging 
the men and superintending the bringing up of bombs. , His 
example after a very trying day's fighting did much to hearten 
the men." 

Captain P. Baker " was in command of the right comp&ny 
in the attack, and he displayed great initiative and dash in 
getting to his objective, in spite of unexpected obstacles. Later 
in the day, although both flanks were in the air, and he himself 
was wounded, he showed great determination in holding on to 
his position until only three men remained. He then crawled 

back to the next trench and at once reorganized its occupants, 
refusing to leave to have his wound dressed until ordered to 
do so." 

A number of awscrds were also made to non-commissioned 
officers and men of the Fusiliers, including the following : — 

Lance-Corporal G. H. Mallett, M.M. : " Finding the enemy 
bombing up a trench on his flank, hurriedly organized a party, 
and gathered all the bombs he could find. Though the men 
were badly shaken and disorganized through the loss of nearly 
all their company officers and N.C.Os., he succeeded in driving 
the enemy off, inflicting heavy casualties, and saving his flank 
from being driven in." 

Private E. J. C. Burkes, D.C.M. : " Word was sent back that 
bombs were urgently needed. He immediately jumped on to 
the top, and, in spite of enemy barrage and machine-gun fire, 
collected all the bombs he could lay hands on, and rushed 
forward with them. ' When I came on the scene,' says his 
company commander, ' 1 found the men applauding him and 
cheering him on.' " 

Private J. Leonard, M.M. : " Owing to casualties, he was the 
only company runner available. He constantly carried messages 
under heavy fire, and, although absolutely exhausted, insisted 
in carrying on until the battalion was relieved. On one occasion, 
although rendered unconscious by fatigue, he at once carried 
on with his duties on recovering." 

Lance-Corporal M. Day, M.M. : " The attack was held up by 
fire from a machine gun. He promptly brought his Lewis gun 
into action, engaged the enemy gun, and silenced it, thus enabling 
the attack to be carried on to the final objective." 

Private T. Maloney, M.M. : " Having his Lewis gun put out 
of action by shell fire, searched for and discovered another gun, 
took charge of it, and pushed forward with great energy and 
initiative, thereby greatly assisting his company in reaching 
their objective. His skilful use of the retrieved gun was of 
vital importance at a most critical stage." 

On leaving the line at this point the battalions were marched 
back to bivouacs in Henencourt Wood. On the night of August 
loth-iith they relieved the 141st Brigade in the sector extending 
along the railway from the Albert-Millencourt road on the north 
along the bank of the Ancre. 

Chapter XVII 

■fT^E now come definitely to the great turning-point of the long 
* ' campaign, for the period which opened with the crossing of 
the Ancre and the capture of Albert on August 22nd marked the 
transition from trench to open warfare. After that success it 
was clear that the Germans were beginning to crack up. It 
was not always easy to appreciate this fact at the time, for the 
enemy had still several good punches up his sleeve, and there 
were nearly two and a half months of fighting yet to come, 
with some very stiff fighting, before the Brigade reached Mormal 
Forest behind its last barrage. But the German resistance 
now took the form of defending one line after another. In fact, 
we were opposed by strong rear-guards. 

This period began for the Brigade without incident on the 
night of August loth-iith, when the line was taken over from 
the I4rst Brigade along the railway at the north-west corner 
of Albert, near the site of the old Hairpin Trench. The North- 
amptonshires were on the right, the Fusiliers on the left, and the 
Bedfordshires ir^ reserve in the Melbourne line. Brigade head- 
quarters were in dug-outs in a bank on the northern edge of 
Henencourt Wood. 

During this period there was plenty of work in reclaiming the 
forward trenches and dug-outs recently occupied by the Germans, 
especially in clearing deep dug-outs of gas and booby traps. 
Active patrolling was carried out nightly to ascertain how Albert 
was held by the enemy. It was found that the town was occu- 
pied by small machine-gun posts of the enemy in cellars and 
dug-outs, all very much on the alert. Our artillery was on 
many occasions given targets on which they fired, with a view 
to demolishing these posts. 

On the night of August i8th the Brigade was relieved in this 
sector, and on the 20th relieved parts of the 129th and 130th 
American Regiments on the right of the divisional front, the 
line being the railway embankment from the village of Dernan- 
court northwards to the southern outskirts of Albert. Brigade 
headquarters were about half a mile south of the village of Bresle. 
The Northamptonshires were on the right, the Fusiliers on the 
left, and the Bedfordshires in reserve. 

The 55th Brigade were on our left, in the western outskirts 
of Albert, and the 12th Division on our right. The enemy held 
the line of the Ancre in strength, with Albert as a bridgehead. 


The general role allotted to the Division was that of covering 
the flank of the main attack of the Fourth Army by taking 
Albert and the high ground to the east of this town. It was the 
task of this Brigade to force the passage of the Ancre south of 
Albert, and join up on the above-mentioned high ground with 
the 55th Brigade. 

The operation was one of some difficulty, as it involved the 
carrying up of bridging material to get both infantry and horse 
transport across the Ancre, which is here about 14 feet wide and 
6 feet deep. The enemy had destroyed all bridges, and more- 
over the low ground on either bank was swampy and much cut 
up by shell fire, and the enemy held the farther bank, along the 
Albert-Meaulte road, in some strength. 

The task of getting the bridges across the river was under- 
taken during the night of August 2ist-22nd by the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment and the Royal Fusiliers. The light trestle 
bridges were made by the Royal Engineers and brought up to 
the railway embankment, whence they were carried to the river 
and dropped across by the infantry. The fact that it was a 
bright moonlight night was a great drawback, and there was 
much cheerful chatter, promoted by the novelty and interest 
of the task, which drew a good deal of hostile attention. Every 
now and then you would meet a party returning from the river, 
and they would hail you with, " We've dropped our bridge in 
the river. Got to go back for another. Isn't it a lark ?" 
But with all the fun that the British soldier finds in such odd 
places, the job was carried through with splendid spirit. There 
was, for instance, the case of Private F. G. Hughes, of the 
Fusiliers, who was one of the bridging party. They catne under 
heavy machine-gun fire at short range from the other side of 
the stream, and found it almost impossible to get their bridge 
across. Private Hughes at once jumped into the stream, seized 
the end of the bridge, swam and waded across, and got it into 
position under the fire of at least three machine guns. 

Sergeant C. Robinson, of the Northamptonshire Regiment, did 
a very similar thing, jumping into the river and helping to get 
a bridge across under heavy fire. 

During the night patrols succeeded in crossing the river, and 
gained a footing on the Albert-Meaulte road, between Albert 
and Vivier Mill, on our left. This greatly simplified the crossing 
of the assaulting battalions in the early hours of the next morn- 
ing. It was not until 2 a.m. on the 22nd that it was definitely 
known that the ground which our barrage was to have swept 
at the opening of our attack was already held by us, and this 
necessitated amended orders being sent to the artillery and 
machine gunners. 

The crossing of the river by the infantry took place in the 
early hours of the 22nd, and at zero hour (4.45 a.m.) the Royal 
Fusiliers and three companies of the Northamptonshire Regiment, 


forming the left of our attack, were formed up across the Ancre 
on the Albert-Meaulte road between Albert and Vivier Mill. 
This was to be their starting-point for the main attack of the 
day on the high ground at the south-east corner of Albert. 

In the meantime one company of the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment had crossed the river farther south, opposite Dernancourt, 
fought their way along the east side of the river, past Meaulte, 
and had now arrived to form the right of our attack. 

At all the crossings there had been sharp fighting, which 
resulted in the capture of German prisoners and machine guns. 

Among the prisoners taken at an early stage of the proceed- 
ings was a complete German battalion headquarters. In the 
dug-out was found one of our own men, taken prisoner while 
on patrol a few hours earlier, and he had the pleasure of escorting 
the German battalion commander to the cages. 

Some gallant work was done at the river crossings. On the 
right a company of the Northamptonshire Regiment was held 
up for a time by heavy machine-gun fire. In the face of this. 
Company Sergeant-Major L. Radley and Sergeant A. Richardson 
succeeded in getting across, and the enemy then withdrew. 
The courage of this W.O. and N.C.O. was largely the means of 
enabling their company to get forward. 

Lieutenant H. Beckingham, of the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment, was in command of the first company to cross in his 
battalion's area, and took charge of the bridging operations 
under heavy machine-gun fire. He got his own company safely 
across, and so enabled the rest of the battalion to cross and reach 
the forming-up line. 

Even when the river had been crossed, there was still a for- 
midable belt of marshes to get over, especially in front of the 
Fusiliers, and the difficulties are best illustrated by the official 
accounts of actions for which medals were awarded. Here, as 
elsewhere, these are only selections from long lists of awards, 
and are given as throwing light on the operation ; — 

Sergeant Patrick Ryan, Royal Fusiliers, D.C.M. ; " Two 
platoons were held up in the marshes. This N.C.O. at once 
went back under intense machine-gun and shell fire through a 
most difficult marsh, and succeeded in guiding them to the only 
path by which it was possible to reach the enemy's position." 

Company Sergeant-Major A. W. Balchin, Royal Fusiliers 
D.C.M. : " The company was in a disorganized state, having 
had to wade through marshy ground, often over their hips. 
Company Sergeant-Major Balchin, seeing the effect that the 
deatJPi of the officers had on the men, at once went forward, 
reorganized, and led them forward under intense machine-gun 
fire. He succeeded in rushing the enemy's first position, thus 
enabling the rest of the company to make their waj^ out of the 
marshes and reform." 


Private Charles Smith, Royal Fusiliers, M.M., " was in charge 
of the company stretcher-bearers, and frequently took his party 
across the most difficult marsh ground under intense machine- 
gun fire. His coolness and example to the other stretcher- 
bearers was undoubtedly the means of saving many wounded 
men who would otherwise have sunk in the marsh and been 

The river having been crossed, the assaulting battalions 
formed up on the Albert-Meaulte road, and at zero hour — 
4.45 a.m. — on 2nd went forward with tanks under cover 
of a creeping barrage. 

The enemy was holding his ground with a great number of 
machine guns disposed in depth along the whole front. Over 
eighty of these guns were captured and sent back, and many 
more were destroyed by shell fire or left on the ground. 

By eight o'clock the Northamptonshires had practically 
reached their final objective for the day, and were consolidating 
their line. On the left the Fusiliers had met with severe opposi- 
tion, and suffered heavy casualties, from the direction of Albert, 
Bellevue Farm, and Tara Hill. They were holding a line about 
500 yards east of Bellevue, where they were afterwards relieved 
by the Bedfordshire Regiment. 

Orders were now received from the Division that, on the final 
objective being reached, strong fighting patrols should be pushed 
forward by bounds, the ground thus reconnoitred being made 
good by companies following in close support. This was done 
by the Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire Regiments, and in 
the meantime the 8th Royal Berlcshire Regiment, temporarily 
placed under the command of G.O.C. 54th Brigade, was moved 
across the Ancre to support the farther advance. 

The Fusiliers, being unable to get forward on their left flank, 
which was in the air, until troops of the 55th Brigade who were 
pushing through Albert advanced to join up, had to dig in with 
their left flank thrown back to Black Wood. They were a 
little later relieved by the Bedfordshires, who attacked and 
captured an enemy strong point that had been causing some 

During these operations General Sadleir-Jackson was wounded 
in the knee, having pushed into the front line, the better to 
control the situation. This bit of bad luck kept him away from 
the Brigade till after the armistice. Command of the Brigade 
was taken over on the spot, as a temporary measure, by Lieu- 
tenant-Colonel A. E. Percival, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, 
and was afterwards held by Brigadier-General J. A. Tyler and 
Brigadier-General O. C. Borrett, until the armistice. General 
Sadleir-Jackson rejoined us a little after that date. 

The final stage of the operations on August 22nd were marked 
by some good work by a platoon of the Bedfordshire Regiment, 
led by 2nd-Lieutenant W. Ashton, who was awarded the M.C. 


Says the official account : — 

" Tliis officer advanced with one platoon against heavy 
machine-gun fire, and managed to capture a trench on Tara 
Hill, from which enemy machine guns had been active all day, 
driving out the enemy and capturing a machine gun. He was 
entirely unsupported in this attack, which was carried on with 
great dash, and enabled the battalion on his right to advance, 
as from this position he could overlook any enemy machine guns 
that tried to engage them at close range. Though sniped at 
continuously, he established posts on his flanks, and a block 
in a communication trench, and held on till relieved in the 

Throughout August 23rd the Northamptonshire Regiment on 
the right and the Bedfordshire Regiment on the left maintained 
a constant pressure on the enemy, and succeeded in advancing 
the line another 1,000 yards by a series of rushes. Otherwise 
the day was uneventful so far as this Brigade was concerned, 
but the Brigade on our left carried out an important attack, 
which cleared the ridges dominating Albert, and left that 
shattered town finally in our hands. 

The next few days saw steady progress. It was clear that 
the enemy was thoroughly disorganized, such counter-attacks 
as he made being desperate rearguard affairs carried out by any 
troops who happened to be on hand, without any general plan. 

At 2.30 a.m. on August 25th the Brigade again attacked, 
with the Northamptonshire Regiment on the right and the Bed- 
fordshire Regiment on the left, each on a two-company front, 
the intention being to secure as much ground jis possible without 
becoming too heavily engaged. 

Becourt Wood was soon cleared, and the leading companies 
then pushed up the hill and on towards Fricourt — scene of the 
Brigade's earliest experiences of the Hne, and now to be re- 
taken by them. Opposition had now weakened considerably, 
and by the time our advanced patrols reached Fricourt the 
enemy was well on the run. 

By the evening of August 26th the final objective of the 
Brigade had been taken by the Fusiliers, who were now fighting 
over the old German trench system where the Brigade won its 
spurs in July, igi6. This point having been reached, the 
Brigade was in reserve on August 27th and 28th, returning to 
the line on the night of August 2Sth-29th, when the whole of 
the divisional front was taken over and the advance on Combles 

Trones Wood, of proud memories, now roughly formed our 
front line, which ran along the eastern edge as far as the light 
railway, and was then thrown back towards the outskirts of 
Longueval. This line was held by the Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment on the right and the Bedfordshire Regiment on the left, 
with the Fusiliers in reserve near Caterpillar Wood. 


Orders were to hold this line and to act as advanced guard 
to the Division when the line went forward. To assist in this, 
the 82nd Brigade R.F.A., " A " and " B " Companies i8th 
Machine Gun Battalion, " B " Squadron Otago Mounted Rifles, 
and one company 22nd Corps Cyclists, were allotted to the 
Brigade commander. 

In the early hours of August 29th the Bedfordshire Regiment 
sent forward strong patrols, which, after meeting some slight 
opposition, were able to advance rapidly in the direction of 
Guillemont. By this time the 3Sth Division was well forward 
on our left, and accordingly the Northamptonshire Regiment 
took up the pursuit, the site of the village of Guillemont, of 
which no trace now remained, being passed by 7 a.m. with little 
or no opposition. 

This having been reported, the Brigade was ordered to advance 
by bounds, and for the rest of the day steady progress was made, 
the leading companies in open formation, and the rest of the 
battalions coming along in column of route like a " sealed 
pattern " advance across the Long Valley at Aldershot. Field 
guns were up with the infantry, shooting over open sights at 
the Germans on the high ground beyond Combles. By 9 a.m. 
the Bedfordshire Regiment had reached Leuze Wood, meeting 
only slight rifle and machine-gun opposition, and taking a few 
prisoners, and by evening our line had reached the eastern 
outskirts of Combles, with the left flank bent back towards 
Bouleaux Wood. 

That night, while the Bedfordshire Regiment was holding an 
outpost line on the edge of Combles, a motor-car occupied by a 
British staff officer dashed through the village, ignored or failed 
to hear the shouted warnings, and rushed on right into a German 
post. The Germans bombed vigorously, the driver was wounded, 
and the staff officer himself escaped by falling hurriedly into a 
ditch, from which he escaped to our lines some hours later. 
The car was still standing by the roadside, disabled, when our 
line advanced on the following day. 

At this time Brigade headquarters were established on the 
slope of a hill, where the slightest movement brought down a 
German " hate." Accommodation was limited, and that night 
the two junior subalterns on the Brigade staff crawled into a 
hole in the back and fell asleep, cheerfully convinced that they 
would either be turned out or blown out of their shelter before 

Early next morning they were awakened by guttural noises, 
and were startled to see a face under a Bosche helmet peering 
in at the entrance. They jumped up, grabbed their revolvers, 
and dashed out after the retreating figure, which proved to be 
that of the Brigade Major in a tin hat borrowed from a German 
prisoner. One wonders whether the Germans were playing 
practical jokes on one another at this stage of the war. 


It was decided to attack at dawn on the following day 
(August 30th), the Fusiliers to pass through the Northampton- 
shire Regiment, and the Bedfordshire Regiment to go forward 
on the left if this attack were successful. However, the attack 
made at 5.15 a.m. was met with heavy hostile fire, and although 
the general line of the Combles-Priez Farm road was reached, 
a stronghold at the latter point held out stubbornly. It was 
now apparent that the enemy was in strength on the Fregi- 
court line, and being steadily reinforced, and all our local efforts 
to get forward were beaten back. An attack by the Northamp- 
tonshire Regiment on the following day (August 31st) carried 
the line farther forward on our right, but the possession of Morvel 
by the enemy on our left still held piatters up. The line as then 
reached was, with little variation, held till the Brigade was 
relieved on the night of September 4th-5th, and concentrated 
in the Leuze Wood area for rest and training. 

Some idea of the successful character of the fighting which 
has necessarily been thus briefly summarized is shown by the 
record of prisoners taken by the Brigade. The total for August 
was 22 officers and 1,385 other ranks, made up as follows : — 

Royal Fusiliers, 3 officers, 450 other ranks ; Bedfordshire 
Regiment, 2 officers, 198 other ranks ; Northamptonshire Regi- 
ment, 17 officers, 737 other ranks. 

Chapter XVIII 


'TpHE next phase of the fighting concerns the capture of Ronssoy 
* and Vendhuille, which resulted in the piercing of the much- 
vaunted Hindenburg Line. 

On September i6th the Brigade moved up by 'busses from 
Guillemont to the neighbourhood of Gurlu Wood, and at dusk 
on the 17th moved up to the forming places for the attack of 
the 1 8th on Ronssoy and the high ground beyond, which gave 
good observation over the Hindenburg Line at Vendhuille and 
the canal. 

For the purposes of this operation the 7th Royal West Kent 
Regiment was attached to the Brigade. The attack was to be 
carried out under a creeping barrage as follows ; — 

The forming-up line was on the east of St. Emilie. The Royal 
West Kent Regiment was to advance at zero and capture a 
line roughly two miles ahead, running north and south on the 
farther outskirts of Ronssoy. The Bedfordshire Regiment was 
then to go through the Royal West Kent Regiment, and con- 
tinue the advance in an easterly direction to a line at the junc- 
tion of the Bellicourt and Guillemont roads. 

The Royal Fusiliers on the right, and the Northamptonshire 
Regiment on the left, had then to form a line facing north 
(that is to say, at right angles to the objective of the Royal West 
Kent Regiment) and attack northwards to a line that would 
include May Copse and Lempire. This was evidently a rather 
sticky proposition, and, as events proved, it did not succeed 
in reaching the whole of its objectives. 

The next day of the attack began with very unpleasant 
weather. At 12.30 a.m. rain began to fall, and continued till 
about 9 a.m. It was very dark, and a strong wind was blowing. 
In spite of these difificulties, however, the Brigade reached the 
forming-up places in time, with the exception of the rear 
company of the Northamptonshire Regiment, which was ten 
minutes late, and in consequence suffered rather heavily from 
the enemy barrage. 

At zero (5.20 a.m.) it was still pitch dark, but the assaulting 
troops got well away under our barrage, and the Royal West 
Kents reached their objective approximately up to time. The 
Bedfordshires, who were to leap-frog them, assisted them to 
clear the enemy out of a small copse at an early stage of the 
attack, and afterwards had almost continuous fighting, but 



passed through the first objective and reached their own objec- 
tive about 7 a.m. They had captured large numbers of prisoners 
on the way, but it was some hours before the whole of the 
village was " mopped up," a job in which two tanks attached 
to the Brigade did splendid service. 

By 7.20 a.m. the Royal Fusiliers and the Northamptonshires 
had reached their forming-up line, which ran east and west 
through the northern side of Ronssoy, and were facing north 
behind the new barrage which had now been put down to help 
them forward. They had already been engaged with small 
pockets of the enemy who had put up local delaying actions, 
especially in Ronssoy Wood, which was cleared by the North- 
amptonshires. Owing to the resistance encountered, and the 
nature ot the ground in the village and wood, these troops were 
now somewhat mi.\ed up. 

It was at this stage that Lance-Corporal Albert Lewis, of the 
Northamptonshire Regiment, won the Victoria Cross. Un- 
happily, he was killed three days later while again doing splendid 
work. The official account reads : — ■ 

" On the morning of September i8th, 1918, this N.C.O. was 
in charge of a section which he had successfully kept together. 
He was on the right of the line, and the battalion started to 
advance to attack Ronssoy, where the east and west barrage 

" The battalion advanced to a point where the enemy machine- 
gun fire was so intense that it wa^-. a practical impossibility to 
get forward. The barrage went on, and the battalion was 
temporarily held up. This man, working with his section on 
the right amongst the ruins, observed two enemy machine guns 
opposite him enfilading the whole battalion. He crawled for- 
ward single-handed on his own initiative with bombs, got 
within bombing range, and successfully bombed the teams 
manning the enemy's guns. The enemy left their guns and ran 
out of the emplacement. Lance-Corporal Lewis thereupon used 
his rifle with good effect, and the whole team surrendered. 
He wounded six and captured four unwounded. By his courage 
and determination in putting out of action two enemy machine 
guns, he undoubtedly enabled the battalion to advance, and so 
contributed largely to the success that followed. 

" Later, on September 21st, during another attack, this N.C.O. 
displayed splendid power of command. When his company was 
caught in the enemy barrage, he was the first to rush them 
through it, until they came under heavy fire from enemy machine 
guns, whereupon he immediately began to place them out in 
shell holes. While doing this he was killed." 

During the morning these battalions attacked northwards, 
according to programme. The Northamptonshire Regiment 
reached Quid Copse on their left, and joined up with the Royal 
Fusiliers along Ridge Reserve. The clearing of the village in 


the rear of this line was still in progress. By the evening this 
had been done. At 5 p.m. the 55th Brigade attacked through 
the line we held, and some progress was made ; but the enemy 
put in a counter-attack, with the result that at dusk they were 
still in strength in Quenchettes Wood, X, Y and Z Copses, the 
north-east part of Lempire, Enfer Wood, and May Copse. 

There was a good deal of shelling during the night, and at 
dawn it was found that the enemy had adjusted his line by 
withdrawing at some points. As a result, the Northampton- 
shires on the left occupied the line May Copse-Enfer Wood, 
and the Bedfordshires were able to send patrols into X, Y and 
Z Copses, which, however, were not yet clear of the enemy. 
That night the Northamptonshires and part of the Fusiliers 
were relieved by the 37th Brigade (12th Division), and con- 
centrated in Ronssoy Wood. 

It had now been established that Ronssoy had been held by 
the ist Guards Grenadier Regiment (the Alexander Regiment), 
of the 2nd Guards Division. Six hundred prisoners from this 
Division and the 232nd Division were taken on the i8th. The 
stubborn resistance offered during these days showed the in- 
tention of the Germans to hold this ground at all costs as a 
bastion to the Hindenburg system, and this was confirmed by 
prisoners' statements. In all, the Brigade had taken about 
900 prisoners up to this time. Three guns had been taken by 
the Northamptonshire Regiment and two by the Royal Fusiliers. 

It was now decided to renew the attack on September 21st, 
with a view to capturing the remainder of the objectives of 
September i8th. In the larger scheme (which included an 
attack on the Knoll by the 53rd Brigade, and on Guillemont 
Farm by the 231st Brigade) this Brigade was to attack the 
intervening trenches. The Bedfordshires were to be on the 
right, and the Northamptonshires on the left, with the Fusiliers 
in reserve. The Knoll mentioned above was a feature of great 
tactical importance, as it commanded Vendhuille and the canal 
crossing at the village, and gave a view over the whole of the 
Hindenburg main line on the front of the 18th Division. The 
trenches to be attacked by this Brigade lay between the Knoll 
and the Farm. 

Zero was fixed at .5.40 a.m. on the 21st, and the forming-up 
line (the Bellicourt road) was reached without incident. But 
the enemy appear to have been aware of our intentions, for they 
shelled the area heavily, and put down a barrage very promptly 
at zero. 

The Division on our right (74th) got on well, but swung 
slightly to the right, leaving a gap on the right of the Bedford- 
shires, about Pot Trench, which caused difficulties. Some of 
the Bedfordshires appear to have reached Doleful and Duncan 
Posts, but could not maintain their position. The attack having 
been held up, and the enemy showing signs of a possible counter- 

attack, the Fusiliers, who were reorganizing in Ronssoy, were 
ordered at about ii a.m. to be ready to move up at half an 
hour's notice. Soon afterwards the battalion was ordered to 
move two companies (organized as one company owing to 
casualties) to hold the line Shamrock Trench and a trench 
between Hussar road and Bellicourt road, and the remaining 
two companies (also organized as one company) were placed 
at the disposal of O.C. Bedfordshire Regiment. 

By 12 noon touch had been gained with one company North- 
amptonshire Regiment, who had pushed on and gained Island 
Traverse, where they had both flanks in the air and were prac- 
tically surrounded. During the afternoon they were forced to 
retire, but fell back fighting, bringing their prisoners with them, 
and inflicting heavy casualties. By 5 p.m. they rejoined the 
rest of their battalion near Holland Post. 

Orders were now given for night attacks by the Northampton- 
shire Regiment on Doleful Post and the Bedfordshire Regiment 
on Duncan Post. 

The company of the Northamptonshire Regiment that had 
previously fought its way to Island Traverse and out again 
was detailed for the Doleful Post venture, and we will follow 
their doings first. 

The barrage came down at midnight, and at 12.15 a.m., with 
a little moonlight to show the way, the Northamptonshire 
Regiment storming party, about thirty strong, moved off. , The 
attack was completely successful ; the post was captured, about 
twenty of the enemy being killed and over forty captured, our 
own casualties being three slightly wounded. 

Careful reconnaissance of the position before the attack by 
2nd-Lieutenant R. Bland, of the Northamptonshire Regiment, 
had contributed very largely to this good result. He was 
awarded the M.C., the official account stating : — 

" He was in command of a storming party, with orders to 
capture and consolidate a post held by the enemy. His skilful 
reconnaissance of the position enabled him to bring his party 
forward in extended order until each man was in jumping 
distance from the trench. At a given signal the whole party 
stormed the trench, captured the whole post and forty-eight 
prisoners, and killed about twenty of the enemy, with a loss 
of three casualties slightly wounded. The success was due to 
the personal courage of this officer, and to his skilful organiza- 
tion and reconnaissance." 

For the same operation a M.C. was also awarded to 2nd- 
Lieutenant E. Marlow, who led his men into the trench, which 
he was one of the first to enter. There he shot two of the 
enemy, which caused some confusion and enabled the rest of 
the trench to be rushed. 

The composite company of the Fusiliers temporarily attached 
to the Bedfordshire Regiment was sent over at 12.15 a.m., but 

through force of circumstances not under control of the officers 
swung too far to the right, and instead of capturing Duncan 
Post, captured Cat Post and parts of Dog Trench and Pot Lane, 
where they estabhshed themselves, and sent back twenty 
prisoners. This left the enemy in Duncan Post and Duncan 
Avenue, between this company of the Fusiliers and the North- 
amptonshires who were now in Doleful Post. 

At I p.m. the artillery were warned that the enemy were 
dribbling forward in front of Doleful Post, as though pre- 
paring to counter-attack. Major Keep, temporarily com- 
manding the Bedfordshire Regiment, had arranged an attack 
to clear the trenches about Duncan Post at 3 p.m., after a ten 
minutes' bombardment. However, this preliminary bombard- 
ment did not take place, as the artillery were standing by for 
the expected counter-attack on Doleful Post. One field gun 
alone was available, and opened fire over open sights at about 
1,400 yards, with excellent results. The attack was carried 
out by Lieutenant R. T. Oldfield and and-Lieutenant W. Pen- 
nington, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, with forty-four men, 
and was completely successful, the entire objective being cap- 
tured. Between 150 and 200 prisoners were taken, and these, 
owing to the small numbers of our storming party, had to be 
handed over to the 74th Division. About 200 Germans were 
killed, 80 dead, and 30 machine guns being found in Duncan 
Post alone. About 100 of the enemy ran eastwards, and were 
pursued by the attached company of the Fusiliers. 

Just as this capital little operation was being finished off, 
the Germans made the expected counter-attack on Doleful Post, 
with about one battalion. The S.O.S. was put up, and our 
barrage came down at once, unfortunately catching some of the 
pursuing Fusiliers. 

The attack got within fifty yards of our line at Doleful Post, 
and was there completely stopped by rifle and Lewis-gun fire. 
As the enemy were unable either to advance or to return our 
fire, they returned through our barrage, which did tremendous 
execution. Some who took cover in shell-holes in front of the 
post were taken prisoners. 

At 5 p.m. the enemy again attacked Duncan and Doleful 
Posts, but were again driven off with heavy loss, leaving about 
twenty prisoners in our hands. 

The excitement of the troops who took part in the literal 
annihilation of the enemy during these counter-attacks was un- 
precedented, and morale and confidence were at the highest 
possible pitch. Companies of the Fusiliers and Northampton- 
shires both left their trenches in pursuit. During one of the 
counter-attacks a stretcher-bearer was seen running up and 
down the parados of the trench, throwing clips of ammunition 
to the defenders, and shouting, " Shoot, boys, shoot 1" as if 
watching the exciting finish of a football match. 


At dusk the line now held by the Brigade was consolidated 
with the assistance of the 8oth Field Company R.E., under 
Captain Weir, and the 8th Royal Sussex Pioneers. That night 
the Brigade was relieved by the 55th- Brigade and marched 
back to bivouacs around St. Emilie Quarries. On the 24th the 
battalions marched farther back to Nurlu. 

About 400 prisoners had been taken in these operations of 
the past two days, and the Bedfordshires captured five 4*2 guns 
at Quenchettes Wood. A very large number of machine guns, 
trench mortars, and anti-tank rifles were also taken. 

Of splendid individual work during the past few days there 
had been almost countless instances, and a selection from the 
official accounts on which medals were awarded can only aim 
at giving a few typical cases. 

Among the Fusiliers, Captains G. E. Cornaby and W. Horn- 
feck were awarded the M.C. Of the former it is recorded that 
" on September i8th, owing to fog, the attacking lines of three 
battalions became greatly mixed. On arriving at Ronssoy, this 
officer, with absolute disregard to personal safety, and in spite 
of heavy machine-gun fire, exposed himself freely in order to 
get his men reorganized, and at once led them forward. This 
enabled his company to keep up with the barrage, which they 
would have otherwise missed, and to gain practically the whole 
of their objectives." 

Captain Hornfeck, " in conjunction with Captain Cornaby, 
led his men forward, and, in spite of his exposed right flank, 
and heavy machine-gun and point-blank artillery fire from that 
direction, succeeded in gaining his objective, capturing two field 
guns and several trench mortars. On Captain Cornaby be- 
coming a casualty, he took command in this area, reorganized 
round the principal strong points, and drove off two counter- 

Private F. T. Day, of the same battalion, won the D.C.M. 
at Duncan Avenue on September 22nd. " This man [says the 
official account], with his Lewis gun, frequently placed himself 
in most exposed positions, in order to engage enemy machine 
guns. On each occasion he put the enemy team out of action, 
enabling our waves to get forward . When his gun was eventually 
put out of action, he picked up a rifle and vigorously sniped the 
enemy, with excellent results." 

Private Alfred Smith, also of the Fusiliers, was awarded the 
M.M. " On the 18th the officer and all N.C.Os. of his platoon 
had become casualties, and the men were badly shaken. He 
at once took charge of the remains of his platoon, and displayed 
qualities of leadership and extraordinary energy. His quick 
grasp of the situation enabled him to get on to the objective 
with the rest of his company, after having been cut off through 
the harassing fire of an enemy machine gun, which he eventually 
put out of action." 

Corporal J. Hurst, who already wore the M.M., now won the 
D.C.M. when in charge of a party " mopping up " Ronssoy. 
" His keenness and good leadership accounted for at least five 
officers and forty men being captured. He also secured a signal 
station complete, shooting the operator who was sending a 

Lieutenant R. T. Oldlield, whose work at Duncan Post has 
already been mentioned, was awarded a bar to the M.C. he won 
in August. Says the official account : " He was in command 
of an assaulting company wfiich had been very much dis- 
organized and reduced by enemy barrage and machine-gun fire. 
Realizing that both flanks were exposed, he rallied all men in 
his vicinity, and made a thorough reconnaissance of the country, 
locating the enemy's positions. He arranged for the co-opera- 
tion of four machine guns, and led two successful bombing 
attacks, which enabled him to get into touch with units on 
both flanks, and surround a large body of the enemy who were 
duly cleared up. He reorganized and consolidated his position, 
and kept his men cheerful, despite the fact that they were very 
exhausted by four days' fighting." 

The M.C. was awarded to and-Lieutenant W. Pennington. 
" He took command of a company in action, when the position 
was very obscure, extricated his company, and proceeded to 
outflank an enemy strong point by marching through the next 
division and attacking from the fiank. He manceuvred his com- 
pany into position, commenced a whirlwind attack with all 
weapons at his disposal, and so disconcerted the enemy that he 
was able to get in at their rear and capture many prisoners." 

A D.C.M. was well won by Private W. A. Suffolk, of the same 
battalion, at Ronssoy on September i8th. " His platoon came 
under heavy machine-gun lire, which seemed likely to impede 
seriously its advance. Private Suffolk advanced alone along 
the bank of a sunken road under heavy fire from two machine 
guns, and rushed the first, putting the team out of action. Then 
working his way round behind the second one, he sniped the 
team, killing them all, and tfius allowing his platoon to con- 
tinue its advance." 

Captain A. J. Frost, of the Northamptonshire Regiment, won 
a bar to his M.C. on the i8th. " The battalion was held up by 
twelve machine guns and a field gun firing over open sights. 
He managed to get his company some 150 yards forward by 
short rushes to within. about sixty yards of two machine guns. 
Seeing a tank come into view, he rushed the position and brought 
enfilade Lewis-gun fire to bear on the enemy line." 

Private Ernest Mead, of the saxne battalion, won the D.C.M. 
on September 21st. " The company was far in advance of any 
other troops. The objective trench was seen to be occupied. 
Lewis guns being laid in position, the captain called for a volun- 
teer to creep forward with him and try and hold up the enemy. 

1 85 

and thus enable the company to advance. Private Mead, 
with his captain, crawled up and jumped into the trench, and 
while the enemy were holding up their hands the company 
occupied the trench." 

An amusing story of the Fusiliers' attack on Ronssoy, on the 
i8th, is told by a sergeant of that battalion, who writes : — 

" Having taken the village, we met with very heavy shell 
fire, both from our own and the enemy's guns. As things were 
getting very uncomfortable, our sergeant-major led us through 
the village out into open country, where we caught sight of the 
Bosche retiring for all he was worth. He then gave us orders 
to extend and open fire. As it became impossible for him to 
give any further orders by word of mouth, he had to fall back 
on the barrack-square system of extended order drill with 
whistle. Throughout the morning we kept advancing by the 
whistle, and, strange to say, our sergeant-major was escorted 
by a Jerry prisoner eating black bread and sausage. Several 
times he ordered him to go back, even threatening to shoot 
him, but he could not get rid of this docile prisoner until we 
finally reached our objective, when he was sent back under 
escort to the cage." 

It was on the same day that the Brigade intelligence officer 
was detailed to return to rear Brigade headquarters, together 
with a few prisoners, and prepare for the return of the remainder 
of the staff. Tired and dirty, he picked out the best-looking 
Bosche, all of whom had their greatcoats on, and loaded him 
up with tin-hat, glasses, compass, and all the other useless 
things that one always drags into battle. 

This particular Bosche did not seem over pleased, but stumbled 
back under the heavy load. Later in the day he was detailed 
for various unpleasant jobs given to prisoners of war, but in 
the middle of dinner, in the presence of the whole staff, he came 
in and remonstrated against a certain job. On taking off his 
greatcoat it was observed that he was a captain in the Prussian 
Guard ! 

After the same fight a certain staff officer of the Brigade was 
also walking back accompanied by a German prisoner, who was 
carrying, amongst other things, the officer's red-banded cap. 
There was a shout from a group of our men sitting by the road- 
side : " B'lime, Fritz, you got on the blinkin' staff, too !" 

It was, I think, the same obliging prisoner who, when a shell 
burst rather near, came running up to the Brigade officer and 
handed him his tin hat — a thoughtful attention that was much 

After the strenuous days in and around Ronssoy, the rest at 
Nurlu very welcome ; but it did not last long, and on the 
night of September ayth-sSth the battalions marched forward 
to a concentration area in bivouacs between Epetry and Guyen- 
court, with a view to taking part in an attack on the Hindenburg 
Line on the 29th. 


While the Brigade was at Nurin, General Lee, the Divisional 
Commander, addressed the troops, congratulating them on their 
splendid achievements, and informing them that the Army Com- 
mander had done the Division the honour of selecting it to 
remain in the Fourth Army to take part in the final breaking 
of the Hindenburg Line. 

The main attack was to be carried out by the 27th American 
Division and other Divisions to the south. The i8th Division 
was to attack on the left of the Americans, with two objects : — 

1. To protect the left of the American Division by gaining 
complete observation over Vendhuille and the canal, and by 
keeping constant pressure on the enemy in this direction. This 
task was allotted to the 54th Infantry Brigade. It was decided 
that the nth Royal Fusiliers and the 6th Northamptonshire 
Regiment should attack on the left and right respectively, 
with the 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment in reserve. 

2. To "mop up" Vendhuille as soon as American progress 
farther south permitted, and to prepare a passage for other 
Divisions to pass through. This task was allotted to the 
55th Brigade. 

A force known as the " liaison force " was also organized 
under the 54th Infantry Brigade, with a special mission. It 
consisted of two companies 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment, " B " 
Company i8th Machine Gun Battalion, Both Field Company R.E., 
and a detachment of the 54th Infantry Brigade Signal Section. 
It was commanded by Major Patterson, M.C., 18th Machine 
Gun Battalion, and its tasi was to accompany the American 
attack on the southern side of the Macquincourt Valley, take 
up a position astride the canal, and prevent the enemy by fire 
from destroying the bridges. As soon as opportunity offered, 
the R.Es. were to push into the village to reconnoitre the bridges 
and report. Three sections of the 8oth Field Company, with 
one company Bedfordshires as escort, were kept in reserve at 
Brigade headquarters for work on the bridges. 

The Americans attacked and captured the Knoll (which over- 
looked Vendhuille) on the 27th, but were unable to maintain 
their gains. Another attack, in which this Brigade was to take 
part, was therefore arranged for the 2gth, the Fusiliers (on the 
left) and Northamptonshires (on the right) being detailed for 
the operation. 

The forming-up places were about Sart Farm (roughly on a 
line between Doleful Post and Lempire Post), and there was a 
good deal of shelling of this area, including gas, the enemy 
apparently being suspicious. Casualties, however, were not 
numerous, and the assaulting battalions got well away at zero 
(5.40 a.m.). The attack was to be made in a north-easterly 
direction, with the objective a trench line on the nearer out- 
skirts of Vendhuille. 


On the left the Fusihers, having the Tombois road to guide 
them, kept direction without difficulty, in spite of mist, smoke, 
and enemy gas. On the right, however, the American troops 
appeared to lose direction slightly, and left a gap between the 
Northamptonshires and themselves. This caused the North- 
amptonshires to swing to the right, and some were carried on 
beyond and to the right of their objectives, and were lost. 

However, the Fusiliers and the left of the Northamptonshires 
reached their objective up to time ; the right of the Northamp- 
tonshires were engaged in heavy fighting on the Knoll, but 
eventually established a line roughly along the Knoll Switch. 
On reports that the American advance was proceeding well, the 
company of the Bedfordshires in reserve to the liaison force 
was moved forward to Dose Trench about 8 a.m., but was sent 
back to the battalion in Ronssoy Wood in the afternoon, when 
it was found that the liaison force would not be able to carry 
out its role. 

Fighting continued throughout the morning on the Knoll, 
the enemy making several counter-attacks, which were all 
beaten off. Rifle and machine-gun fire from Guillemont Farm 
on our right, which was still held by the enemy, proved trouble- 
some and hindered movement. In the afternoon enemy artil- 
lery was active, and the front line of the Fusiliers in particular 
came in for rather rough handling. 

That night there was little activity on either side, and we 
took the opportunity to consolidate and reorganize on and 
around the Knoll. At dawn on the 30th the Brigade was dis- 
posed as follows : On the right, the Northamptonshires in Knoll 
Support and Switch and Tiger Trench ; on the left, the Fusiliers 
in Tino Trench and Support, Spree Lane, Bell Avenue, and 
Tombois Trench. The 7th Queen's (55th Brigade), who had 
been placed at the disposal of this Brigade as counter-attack 
battalion, was in support in Lark Trench, Causeway Lane, 
Fog Trench, and London Road. The Bedfordshires were in 
reserve in Ronssoy Wood. What may appear a list of almost 
meaningless names in the foregoing will be of interest to those 
of the Brigade who were in the line at this important stage of 
the proceedings. 

About 10 a.m. there were signs that the enemy were with- 
drawing on our front, and patrols reached Vendhuille without 
much opposition. Accordingly, by about noon most of the 
troops had moved forward to Vendhuille Trench, and the 
Fusiliers were pushed ahead to "mop up" the village. Rather 
acrimonious discussions with the enemy tended to hinder this 
work, and two companies of the Bedfordshire Regiment were 
ordered forward to assist, but the job had been completed when 
they arrived. 

Orders were received from Division in the afternoon not to 
fight for the Vendhuille bridges, but to establish an outpost 

line along the west bank of the canal, and push patrols across 
if possible to locate the enemy. This line was accordingly 
established, but snipers and machine guns prevented the crossing 
by patrols. 

That night the Bedfordshire Regiment relieved the Fusiliers 
and Northamptonshire Regiment in the line, and on October ist 
this Brigade was relieved by the Scottish Horse (149th Brigade). 
On October 2nd the Brigade embussed at Guyencourt for Mol- 
liens-au-Bois, and there for a short time had a well-earned rest. 

Chapter XIX 

JIJI ID-OCTOBER saw the Brigade moving forward again for 
^^^ what was to prove the last phase of the war. 

Looking back on the war, it is very easy to regard the last days 
of October and the early days of November as a sort of triumphant 
procession, in which our troops marched gaily eastward in column 
of route, while a beaten and disorganized enemy hurried towards 
his own frontier without firing a shot. Such an impression is 
not only bad history, but is very unjust to the men who took 
part in the last operations. These may have been only a last 
desperate rearguard action, but the 54th Brigade will ever 
remember that the Germans on our part of the front had still 
a number of hard punches up their sleeves, and we were yet to 
lose many good comrades before the white flag came out of the 
enemy's lines. As a matter of fact, the Brigade's casualties in 
these last days were 26 officers and 675 other ranks, the heaviest 
in the Division. 

On October 17th the Brigade moved up by train to the Nurlu 
area, and on the following day moved by 'busses to Serain, where 
we were destined to spend some time after the Armistice, and 
where the last Divisional review, referred to in Chapter I, was 
held. On the igth the Royal Fusiliers and Bedfordshire Regi- 
ment went forward to Maurois (about four miles south-west of 
Le Cateau), andon the followingday the Northamptonshires were 
sent up to Reumont in the same area. 

On the night October 20th- 21st the Brigade relieved the 
199th Brigade in the line north-east of Le Cateau. The line 
here ran along the railway embankment of the Le Cateau- 
Neuvilly railway, and we had the enemy on the high ground 
directly to our east. The Northamptonshire Regiment remained 
at Reumont. The line was near enough to Le Cateau for the 
reserve companies to be accommodated there. It was not 
altogether a health resort, for the Germans were still shelling 
the place with plenty of high explosives and gas, and one recalls 
the neighbourhood of the big church tower as a specially un- 
healthy spot. 

Life for those in the town became a matter of wandering 
about the streets by day, wondering where the next one would 
come to, and living in a cellar by night. One company of 
the Bedfordshire Regiment found itself a very comfortable 
headquarters in a house that had been a German officers' 
club from the early days of the war till very recently. There 

were a number of French civilians in the town, and they took 
things very philosophically, coming out each morning and clean- 
ing their doorsteps as if there were no war on. Their satisfac- 
tion at the turn of events which had brought British troops back 
to Le Cateau after over four years of German occupation was 
only natural, and French fiags, hidden away Heaven knows 
where through the weary months in anticipation of a day of 
deliverance, at long last now fluttered from the attic windows. 
Whether any of these flags could be seen by (ierman observers 
is difficult to say, but several came down in the course of the 
evening " hates," when shelling intensified, and houses fell in 
all directions. These frequent crashes, when houses would 
suddenly flop across a street, and bricks and tiles fell in all 
directions, made the evening hours somewhat unpleasant. 
Happily, the German gunners, ever men of method and punctu- 
ality, stuck to the time-table idea to the last, so that, having 
once found that shelling was very light in the mornings, one 
was safe in carrying on sight-seeing before lunch. 

Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Percival has given me the following 
notes of the mingled excitement and humour of this period : — ■ 

" Soon after taking over the line 1 met the commanding officer 
of the battalion on our left, and he informed me that his men 
had captured and were holding the gullies by Richmont Mill, 
about 400 yards in front of the left of our line. As these gullies 
were in the front allotted to us, I told him 1 would take them 
over, and we went forward together to look at the ground. 

" On arriving at the gullies we were surprised to find no men 
there, and on calling out we received no response. Shortly after- 
wards my runner made a dash with his rifle into a hole, from 
which he produced a live Bosche. As we were both unn med 
except for walking-sticks we thought it was time we got lack 
to our own lines ! We took the Bosche prisoner back with us, 
and got some useful information from him. 

" The following day an amusing incident occurred. I sent 
my Adjutant, Captain Methuen, over to the headquarters of 
a neighbouring battalion to keep liaison with them. Captain 
Methuen was wearing a black waterproof of a nautical cut, 
and the Adjutant of the neighbouring battalion apparently 
regarded this with suspicion. There was the added fact that 
Captain Methuen had only recently acted as my Adjutant, 
and was not known personally to the officers of this other 
battalion. As a result he was closely followed back to our 
headquarters by a runner, who annoimced that he had been 
ordered to keep him in sight and see where he actually went to !" 

The operations now to be undertaken were a part of the 
general advance. The scheme, seen " in the big," was that the 
Fourth Army, in conjunction with the Third, was to gain the 
western edge of the Forest of Mormal, and objectives farther 


north. The 13th Corps was to attack with the i8th Division 
on the left and the 25th on the right. 

General Lee (i8th Division) decided to attack with our Brigade 
(less the Northamptonshires) on the left, and the 53rd Brigade 
on the right, and having taken the first and second objectives 
to send the 55th Brigade, with 6th Northamptonshires attached, 
through to the final objectives, which were beyond Bousies. 
The attack was so timed that the 55th Brigade should get into 
the close country round Bousies about dawn on October 23rd. 
The distances to the first and second objectives, with which the 
two attacking battalions of this Brigade were concerned, were 
approximately 3,500 and 5,500 yards respectively. The Brigade 
arranged to attack with the Bedfordshire Regiment to the first 
objective, and the Fusiliers to the second. 

Zero was at 1.20 a.m. on October 23rd. The early part of the 
night was wet, but the weather cleared later, and the battalions 
reached their forming-up places on and around the railway 
embankment without difficulty. This was the first time the 
Brigade had attempted a big attack by moonlight. Fortunately, 
there was a ground mist during the forming-up time, and this 
enabled the Bedfordshires, who were to be the first over, to gel- 
well out in front of the embankment without attracting too 
much notice. But the enemy were obviously very nervous, 
and indulged in a good deal of shelling, including gas, which 
caused some casualties. . 

The barrage came down well, and the Bedfordshires, although 
troubled by an enemy machine gun between them and the 
barrage, got well away, dealt with the machine gun, and pushed 
on, followed by the Fusiliers. The German replied promptly 
and heavily to our barrage, and we had a number of casualties 
in the early stage of the attack. 

Some opposition was met with in three sunken roads near 
Richemont Mill, but this was speedily overcome, with the ex- 
ception of one post, which remained in action after the Bedford- 
shires had passed over it, and was finally mopped up by the 

The moon was not putting in much work, and the attack 
pressed forward with the mingled advantages and drawbacks 
of darkness This caused some confusion and lack of direction 
to many parties, and when daylight came the dead of our own 
Brigade and of the 33rd Division (on our left) were found lying 
together in one another's area. But the advance continued 
methodically. The enemy were in great strength, but our 
artillery inflicted heavy casualties, many prisoners were taken, 
and whenever resistance was offered our infantry killed large 

The leading battalion had some heavy fighting at White 
Springs, rather more than half-way to the first objective, but 
managed to deal with this with the help of a half company 


brought up from Richmont Mill, and finally reached a road 
running directly across our front, some 500 yards short of their 
objective. Some companies of the Bedfordshire Regiment mis- 
took this for their objective. As a result they halted, and the 
Fusiliers passed through and carried on the advance, shortly 
afterwards capturing eleven guns. 

The Fusiliers now got well ahead, and one company (Captain 
Hornfeck), moving through the outskirts of Forest, reached its 
objective north-west of Epinette. There, however, it had both 
flanks in the air, and, fired on from all sides, was forced to retire 
behind the ridge at the north-east corner of Forest. Here it 
rejoined the other leading company, which, having lost its way, 
was digging in under the impression that it was on its objective. 

It was now about 6 a.m., and the attack came to a temporary 
standstill till about 7.30 a.m., when the 7th Buffs f55th Brigade) 
passed through the Fusiliers according to programme, and with- 
out much difficulty went beyond the second objective in front 
of Epinette. Soon afterwards the Fusiliers and Bedfordshires 
moved • forward to their original objectives, re-organized, and 
dug in. At the same time advanced Brigade headquarters 
moved to White Springs. 

In the afternoon our Brigade took over the front from the 
53th Brigade, the Northamptonshires, who had now returned 
to us, relieving the 7th Buffs. Brigade headquarters and the 
rest of the Brigade moved into Forest, and with orders to renew 
the attack at dawn on the following day we settled down for 
any rest that could be had. 

The attack on the 23rd, which has now been briefly described, 
had gone through with all the smoothness the optimistic could 
expect. We took 14 guns (ir by the Fusiliers and 3 by the 
Bedfordshires), 6 trench mortars, 80 machine guns, and 3 anti- 
tank rifles, as well as 250 prisoners — not such a bad day con- 
sidering that the total strength of the two attacking battalions 
that day was just under 800 officers and men. Our casualties 
had been — Fusiliers, 2 officers and 62 other ranks ; Bedford- 
shires, 4 officers and 165 other ranks. 

And now one comes up against the same old difficulty — at 
any rate this is the last chapter, and it will not bother me much 
longer — of attempting some selection from the numbers of 
instances of personal gallantry. 

Take the Fusiliers first. I suppose it will be agreed that they 
had the nastiest moments in getting away from the forming-up 
line, for they followed the Bedfordshires, and the enemy, already 
jumpy, and very suspicious about the railway embankment, 
now plastered it with all the metal to hand. 

At the beginning of this action the company led by Captain 
W. Hornfeck had to pass in single-file under the railway bridge 
and across a narrow footbridge. The enemy had this point 
well marked, and put down a heavy barrage on it as soon as 


our own guns opened. Seeing that the men in front faltered 
for a moment, Captain Hornfeck pushed forward to the bridge, 
and remained there under continual artillery and machine-gun 
fire until the last man was across, cheering them on by his 
fearless behaviour. It was his company that, as already men- 
tioned, pushed forward beyond Epinette. There they hung on 
for over two hours with both flanks in the air. Five of the field 
guns taken by the Brigade were captured by this company. 

Unluckily, Captain Hornfeck had one foot practically cut off 
by a shell while forming up his company for the attack on the 
following day. In spite of this he superintended the forming-up 
under heavy artillery fire, cheered his men on as they went 
forward at the right moment. His leg was afterwards ampu- 

Good work was done by Sergeant A, Palmer on the 23rd. 
He was in charge of the right platoon of the Fusiliers. In the 
darkness touch was lost with the battalion on our right (53rd 
Brigade), and our right flank came under heavy machine-gun 
fire. Locating the gun which was giving most trouble, this 
N.C.O. pushed forward with two men over open ground, rushed 
the gun, killed one of the team and took two others prisoner, 
and so enabled his platoon to get forward. He then took out 
a patrol under heavy fire and succeeded in getting touch with 
the battalion on his right. 

Of the work of the Bedfordshires that day Lieutenant-Coloqel 
A. E. Percival has given me the following notes : — 

" The battalion met with considerable opposition during the 
early part of the attack, especially " B " Company on the right, 
under Lieutenant Lang, and was held up at the start by a number 
of enemy machine guns. A very fine bit of work was done by 
Sergeant Rickard, who crawled forward, accompanied by a 
runner (Private Flute), and put a whole machine-gun crew out 
of action. They both received the D.C.M. 

Meanwhile " C " Company on the left, led by Lieutenant 
Chester, had cleared the gullies after heavy fighting, enabling 
" A " Company (Lieutenant Hart) to pass through and attack 
the sunken road at White Springs. Very heavy fighting occurred 
at this spot, and many of the enemy were killed. " D " Com- 
pany (Captain Rice) then took up the attack, and eventually 
reached the final objective. An inspection of the ground after- 
wards showed the very heavy nature of the fighting, which was 
proved by the large number of enemy dead and captured machine 

" The battalion moved into Forest just before dusk that 
evening, and settled down for the night, but at about 10 p.m. 
we were warned that we should have to continue the attack 
the next morning. It was not until 1.30 a.m. (on the 24th) 
that we received definite orders, and we had to be in position 
in front of Bousies, about two miles distant, ready to attack 


at 4 a.m. This did not leave much time, but rapid marching, 
and sending officers on in front to reconnoitre the village, got 
the battalion in position in support of the Northamptonshires 
about a quarter of an hour before zero. 2nd-Lieutenant Tysoe 
rendered valuable assistance by carrying out a reconnaissance 
of the village and surrounding country during this night." 

With regard to the good work by Sergeant Kickard which 
Colonel Percival mentions, the official account of his action was 
as follows : — 

" Shortly after the start his platoon was held up by an enemy 
machine gun, which had been pushed forward inside our barrage, 
and seven of his men were hit, including the Lewis-gun section. 
Realizing the danger to the rest of the battalion if this machine 
gun were allowed to remain in its present position. Sergeant 
Rickard took the Lewis gun himself, and went forward with 
one runner, who carried the drums. He got within six yards of 
the machine-gun post and then opened fire, putting the gun 
out of action and killing or wounding all the crew, ten in number. 
Foflowed by the rest of the platoon, he then fought his way 
forward, putting out of action several other machine-gun posts." 

Private F. Flute, the runner who promptly picked up some 
Lewis-gun drums and followed Sergeant Rickards, is reported in 
the official account as having personally dealt with a sniper 
who was attempting to knock out the Sergeant. 

The attack was continued at 4 a.m. on the 24th. Orders 
arrived from Division in the early hours, and were at once com- 
municated verbally to the Royal Fusiliers and Bedfordshires, 
who moved off at once; and a motor-car took orders to the 
Northamptonshires, who, it will be remembered, were now 
holding the line, having relieved the Buffs (5,5th Brigade). It 
was decided to attack with the Northamptonshires, who were 
to take the first objective, the other battalions then leap- 
frogging through to the final objective. 

Our barrage came down at zero (4 a.m.), but was rather 
ragged and short, and caused a number of casualties in our 
own ranks. Our attack got well away, however, and the German 
reply was not particularly' heavy. But the darkness and the 
close nature of the country proved a great hindrance. As a 
restilt our men soon lost the barrage, and a number of hostile 
machine guns began to give a great deal of trouble. The sup- 
port battalions (Fusiliers and Bedfordshires) became involved 
in the fighting within the first 700 yards, but pushed on, and 
duly went through the Northamptonshires according to pro- 
gramme on the line of a road that runs south-east from Bousies 
Wood Farm. 

The enemy had now pulled himself together, and though it 
was some comfort to know that he was only putting up desperate 
rearguard actions, it is just as unpleasant, and fully as fatal, to 
be killed in a show of this kind as in a full-dress battle. It must 


be remembered that the country rather lent itself to delaying 
actions, for after a spell over bare, open ground, not unlike our 
own South Downs, we were now among orchards, with thick 
hedges all strongly wired and very difficult to get through. 
More than ever the war had come down to the platoon and section 
commanders, and jolly well they rose to the occasion. 

About dawn the Clermans put in a couple of brisk little counter- 
attacks, one on the right company of the Northamptonshires, 
and one on the Fusiliers at Bousies Wood Farm, but both were 
driven off with loss. The Fusiliers now got forward, taking 
and passing the wired line in front of Bousies Wood Farm, but 
could not get across the top of the ridge, which was swept by 
machine guns from the little valley beyond. Trouble was also 
being caused on our right by machine guns in and around 
Renuart Farm, and others that had survived the attack of the 
55th Brigade still farther on our right were enfilading our front 
line and making movement in the rear of it practically im- 
possible. With these several hindrances the attack came to a 
standstill pending further artillery preparation. 

This was arranged for with Division. Unluckily, the heavies 
took on certain German lines which were shown on aeroplane 
photographs, but which were now as a matter of fact held by 
us. As a result we suffered a number of casualties, and in addi- 
tion, as some of the guns were shooting short, our suppoii: 
companies were shelled out of their positions. 

During the afternoon Brigadier-General O. C. Borrett, C.M.G., 
D.S.O., was taken ill and evacuated, and I.ieutenant-Colonel 
R. Turner, D.S.O., of the Northamptonshire Regiment, assumed 
temporary command of the Brigade. 

About this time a fine piece of work by Lieutenant F. W. 
Hedges, Bedfordshire Regiment, attached 6th Battalion North- 
amptonshire Regiment, who was in command of the company 
now held up in front of Renuart Farm, enabled the advance to 
be continued. For this action he was awarded the Victoria 
Cross. The official account says : — 

His company was on the right of the Brigade front. He 
advanced a considerable distance to a point where his further 
advance was held up by about six machine-gun posts on the hill 
opposite the line. Early in the afternoon this officer made up 
his mind to clear out these enemy posts. Later, accompanied 
by one sergeant, and followed at some distance by a Lewis-gun 
team, he proceeded up the hill, under cover of a hedge, killed 
the first machine gunner, and took two other prisoners. He 
then worked his way along the crest of the hill, and dealt with 
three other machine-gun posts in a similar manner, taking the 
feed-blocks out of the guns, his total being four machine guns 
and fourteen men." 

As a result of this fine piece of work the whole line, after being 
held up for some hours, was able to get forward. An advance 


was made at this point, and almost simultaneously the other 
three companies of the Northamptonshires, who had been held 
up around Bousies Wood Farm, turned the enemy position from 
the north. With these two tactical successes to our credit, 
the enemy resistance collapsed. At 5 p.m. the Bedfordshires 
captured Renuart Farm, the attack pushed forward, and by 
6 p.m. the Brigade had reached a line near the Englefontaine- 
Robersart road, and had obtained touch with the flanks. 

That night we were relieved by the 53rd Brigade, and by 
dawn on the 25th the Fusiliers and Northamptonshires had 
been withdrawn to Bousies, and the Bedfordshires to Epinette 

In the fighting of the 24th the Brigade took 100 prisoners and 
20 machine guns, the grand total for the two days being 350 
prisoners, 14 guns, 6 trench-mortars, 100 machine guns, and 
3 anti-tank rifles. 

Among much good work this day (24th), that of two young 
Fusilier officers was rewarded by the M.C. The official accounts 
read as follows : — 

Lieutenant G. E. Tyler " led his company forward with entire 
disregard for personal safety, rushing several machine-gun posts 
at the head of his men. He was badly shot through the lungs 
while consolidating, but continued to direct operations for 
nearly three hours until collapsing." 

Lieutenant E. L. Moody " shortly after the start of the attack 
found himself in charge of three companies, the officers of two 
companies having become casualties. He did fine work in 
re-organizing them when held up, and afterwards in consolidation, 
walking about freely under heavy machine-gun fire. In the 
evening he took charge of the battle patrols going forward, and 
succeeded in gaining a considerable amount of ground." 

It was, by the way, just about this time that the newest 
thing in hand-to-hand lighting took place — a duel with a Lewis 
gun, which is a very messy way of settling an argument. I 
think it was a Bedfordshire Lewis gunner, carrying his gun, 
who suddenly came on a Bosche in a shell-slit. The Bosche 
sprang out, seized hold of the Lewis gun, and attempted to 
wrest it from our man. A great struggle took place, in the 
course of which the German held the muzzle of the gun at his 
belt, and, clutching the barrel-casing, pulled as hard as he could. 
Let his fate be a hint to you, if you are ever quarrelling over 
the possession of a Lewis gun, for at this moment our man 
pressed the trigger, there was a sudden burst of fire, and — well, 
you can imagine that a German who has taken about twenty 
rounds all at once in his stomach is not a drawing-room ornament. 

After forty-eight hours' rest the Brigade relieved the 55th 
Brigade, and each of our three battalions had a turn in the line. 
We held a two-battalion front till October 30th, when the right 
sector was taken over by the 50th Division, and our Brigade 


sector was reduced to a one-battalion front. This extended 
from the Robersart-Preux-au-Bois road northwards for about 
1,200 yards. On November ist the Royal Fusiliers relieved the 
Bedfordshires, who went into support at Bousies, while the 
Northamptonshires were in support in Epinette orchards. 
These dispositions remained unchanged until November 3rd, 
when the front of the Royal Fusiliers was extended a further 
1,000 yards, in order to take in the whole of the Brigade front 
for the attack on the 4th. 

This attack, which was to prove the Brigade's last show, 
was a part of a daylight attack on a large scale over a very 
wide front. So far as we were concerned, our objective was 
the village of Preux-au-Bois, on the western edge of Mormal 

Putting the matter simply, we now held a line parallel with and 
a little west of the Robertsart-Englefontaine road, one of 
those straight-ruled roads of France, which here ran roughly 
north and south. From here to the centre of Preux was roughly 
1,500 yards. The plan was for the Northamptonshires (less one 
company) to make the initial attack, and seize the ground on 
the north of the village. This done, the Bedfordshires, with 
one company Royal Fusiliers and the remaining company of 
the Northamptonshires, were to form up on the north of the 
village and attack in a southerly direction, mopping up the 
village. The rest of the Royal Fusiliers, still holding the line 
opposite the west side of the village, were in the meantime to 
keep the enemy amused with Lewis guns, rifles, and rifle- 
grenades, in the hope of deceiving him as to the real point 
of attack. 

Zero was at 6.15 a.m. Our barrage came down well, and the 
Northamptonshires got well away, the enemy reply, though 
prompt, not being over heavy. Within the first 200 yards 
some opposition was encountered, but this did not prove serious, 
the only hitch in the proceedings being enfilade machine-gun 
fire on our right, from a point somewhere at the north-east 
corner of the village. This was a little troublesome just before 
the eastern objective was reached, but did not delay proceedings, 
and at 8 a.m., well up to programme, this part of the job had 
been successfully carried out. 

The next attack, which had to start from the north of the 
village, on the ground just won, and push south, now formed 
up under the enfilade barrage, which was exceptionally accurate 
and good. The weather had been clear early, but soon after 
6.30 a.m. a thick fog came down, which did not clear till about 
g a.m., and proved of some .service. 

While this southerly attack was forming up, about one com- 
pany of the enemy counter-attacked down a little valley north- 
east of the village, but the Northamptonshires dealt firmly with 
this attempt to spoil a show that was going very well up to the 

1 98 

present. Accordingly our second attack got away unhindered, 
but after the first 500 yards strong opposition was encountered. 
The company of the Fusiliers was now held up by machine-gun 
fire from near a house on the Robertsart main road, the two left 
companies of the Bedfordshires were heavily engaged near the 
cemetery and making but slow progress, and the company of 
the Northamptonshires taking part in this second attack was 
also held up by machine-gun fire. 

Four tanks had been allotted to the Brigade, and were to 
accompany this southerly attack and mop up the village, one 
being attached to the Royal Fusiliers and Northamptonshires 
companies, and two to the Bedfordshires. However, they had 
by this time somewhat lost their way, and three of them were 
now operating with the two right companies of the Bedford- 
shires. These two companies were thus enabled to make good 
progress, and by about ten o'clock had fought their way through 
the village to near the church, where they gained touch with 
the 2nd Munster Fusiliers (30th Division), who had come up 
from the south, and proceeded to mop up. 

By this time the enemy was well shaken, and except for 
isolated parties his resistance became weaker. By 11 a.m. the 
right company of the Royal Fusiliers (which had been holding 
our old front opposite the village, and had delivered a dummy 
attack at zero) was able, by keeping constant pressure on the 
enemj', to clear the cross-roads on the Robertsart- Preux road ; 
and the company attacking from the north of the village, very 
ably led by Captain Hope, was able to clear the enemy from the 
point where machine guns had earlier proved troublesome, and 
to capture over 100 pri.soners. 

By this time one battalion 53rd Brigade had leap-frogged 
through the Northamptonshires and pushed ahead, so that 
early in the afternoon the Division had gained a line 2,500 yards 
east of Preux, and was still pushing on. 

Our job was done. The battalions went into billets among 
the cellars and ruined houses of Preux, with orders to be ready 
at half an hour's notice on the following day to take up the pur- 
suit. Not to make a long story any longer, the pursuit managed 
to do without us, an acquaintance of considerably over three 
years with Jerry had come to an end, and on November 6th 
we moved back to rest at he Cateau, where we were when news 
of the armistice reached us. 

Some mention, all too brief, has already been made of the 
good work done by the company of the Royal Fusiliers that took 
part in the southerly attack through the village of Preux. This 
was as a matter of fact a composite company, the remains of 
two others — " C " and " D " — and was commanded by lieu- 
tenant (acting Captain) P. A. Hope, who for his courage and fine 
leadership was awarded the D.S.O. The official account 
stactes : — 


" Although held up by machine-gun nests and the break- 
down of the tank which was to deal with them, at the commence- 
ment of the attack, he eventually succeeded in breaking through 
with some twenty men. Without waiting for the remainder 
he at once pushed on with such effect that he succeeded in 
clearing up the whole area, capturing over 20 machine guns 
and some 200 prisoners, including five officers. The success of 
the attack in this area was entirely due to his leadership and 
determination, while the example of coolness and courage he 
set the men was beyond all praise." 

Some good work was done with this company by Private 
D. Sale (" C " Company), who was also decorated. Says the 
official account : — 

" The company was held up by heavy machine-gun fire. He 
at once pushed forward alone with his Lewis gun, and, although 
under heavy fire the whole time, got his gun into action and 
succeeded in silencing several enemy machine guns." 

Captain R. B. Fawkes, M.C., of the 6th Northamptonshire 
Regiment, also won the D.S.O. that day. According to the 
official account, " he commanded the company taking the first 
of the battalion's objectives. This company met with consider- 
able opposition from the start, but he led it successfully to the 
objective bj^ skilful handling and fire tactics, and by the fine 
example he set his men, being absolutely fearless. The com- 
pany won its way by rifle and machine-gun fire, captured a 
number of machine guns, and took over 100 prisoners." 

The third D.S.O. won that day went to Captain R. L. V. 
Doake, M.C., of the Bedfordshire Regiment. " He was in com- 
mand of one of the leading companies of the assault [says the 
official account]. The enclosed nature of the country called for 
special individual leadership on the part of officers and N.C.Os., 
and in this respect Captain Doake set a splendid example, 
being always in the thick of the fighting, and himself killing a 
large number of Germans. He led his company forward when 
the companies on either flank were held up, reached his final 
objective, and then sent parties out to either flank to help the 
other companies forward. This was completely successful." 

Just one little personal narrative of this last fight of the 
Brigade. I quote from some notes kindly sent me by Lieu- 
tenant-Colonel A. E. Percival : — 

" Some excellent shooting by Bedfordshire officers is recorded 
during this attack. In one case Captain Doake, commanding 
' C ' Compan}^ was moving through the orchards towards the 
village, accompanied by his batman, when he saw through a 
hedge a party of four Bosches with a machine gun not more than 
twenty yards away. He and his batman opened fire, and he 
claims to have brought down all the four Bosches with four 

" Lieutenant Goben found himself face to face with a Bosche 
in a sht near the attack. The Bosche was armed with a rifle, 
and Goben had a revolver, and each side fired four rounds 
before Lieutenant Goben became the victor. His subsequent 
remark was that ' It would have been damned funny if it had 
not been so extremely dangerous.' 

" No less than 1,400 civilians were liberated from the village, 
and also several Alsatian soldiers who had been in hiding there 
for a fortnight, awaiting our arrival. The civilians were very 
hospitable, and in many cases our men were enjoying cups of 
coffee in the houses before the enemy had been finally evicted 
from the village. 

" One of the last sights seen by the battalion on this final 
day of active operations was a stout Frenchwoman chasing a 
big German down the street with a pitchfork in her hand." 

So, roughly speaking, that Frenchwoman chasing a German 
out of Preux-au-Bois was the end of the wares far as this Brigade 
was concerned. There followed a short rest at Le Cateau, where 
the armistice was celebrated, a few weeks at Serain, and finally 
a move to Selvigny (Brigade headquarters and 2nd Bedford- 
shire Regiment) and Walincourt (nth Royal Fusiliers and 6th 
Northamptonshire Regiment), where we spent our last Christ- 
mas in France, carried on salvage and education, and gradually 
dwindled away as officers and men were demobilized. A very 
quiet, a very unexciting ending to it all — and yet not the end, 
for all of us, officers and men alike, made friendships and com- 
radeships that we shall never willingly sever, and for many 
years to come it will always be a good introduction, when white- 
haired old veterans meet, to say : " Hullo ! Weren't you in 
the old 54th Brigade ? Shake !" 

Appendix A. 

Brigadier-General H. Browse-Scaife (September, 191 4 — March, 

Major-General W. C. G. Heneker, C.M.G., D.S.O. (Match, 1915— 

December, 1915). 
Major-General T. H. Shoubridge, C.M.G., D.S.O. (December, 

1915 — March, 1917). 
Brigadier-General C. Cunliffe Owen, C.B. (March, 1917 — 

October, 19 17). 
Brigadier General L. de V. Sadleir- Jackson, C.B., C.M.G., 

D.S.O. (October, 191 7 — March, 1919). 
* Brigadier-General J. A. Tyler, C.M.G. (August — September, 

♦Brigadier-General O. C. Borrett, C.M.G., D.S.O. (October- 
November, 191 8). 

* Commanded Brigade during absence of Brigadier-General 
Sadleir-Jackson, woimded. 


Major Rich. 

Major O. P. L. Hoskyns. 

Lieutenant-Colonel The Hon. C. M. Hore-Ruthven, D.S.O. 

Major E. G. Miles, D.S.O., M.C. 

Captain G. F. J. Cumberlege, D.S.O., M.C. 

Captain G. D. Pidsley, D.S.O., M.C. 

Captain The Hon. D. G. Fortescue, M.C. 


Major L. A. Newnham, M.C. 

Captain H. B. Stutfield. 

Major C. Runge, D.S.O., M.C. 

Captain O. C. Johnson, M.C. 

Captain L. W. Diggle, M.C. 

Captain H. C. Browning, M.C. (acting Staff Captain) 

iiTH (S.) Battalion The Royal Fusiliers. 

Lieutenant-Colonel C. C. Carr, D.S.O. (September, 1914 — 

September, 19 17). 

Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Sulman, M.C. (September, 191 7 — 

July, 1918). 

Lieutenant-Colonel K. D. H. Gwynn, D.S.O. (July, 1918 — 

December, 19 18). 

Lieutenant-Colonel G. Blewitt, D.S.O., M.C. (December, 1918 — 

January, 19 19). 
Lieutenant-Colonel C. F. Miller, D.S.O. (January, 1919 — March, 


7TH (S.) Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. 

Colonel H. Martin, C.B. (September — December, 1914). 
Lieutenant-Colonel E. D. Pickard Cambridge (December, 1914 — 

March, 19 15). 
Major G. P. Mills, D.S.O. (March, 1915— April, 1915). 
Lieutenant-Colonel Allenby (April, 1915 — June, 1915). 
Lieutenant-Colonel G. D. Price (June, 1915 — October, 1916). 
Lieutenant-Colonel G. P. Mills, D.S.O. (October, 1916 — January, 

Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Percival, D.S.O., M.C. (January, 1918 

— May, 191 8). 

2ND Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. 

Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Percival, D.S.O., M.C. (May, 1918 — 
March, 19 19). 

[Note. — Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Percival was 'commanding 
the 7th Battalion when it ceased to exist, and took over command 
of the 2nd Battalion, which then joined the Brigade.] 

6th (S.) Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment. 

Lieutenant-Colonel G. R. Ripley (September, 19 14 — October, 

Lieutenant-Colonel S. H. Charrington, D.S.O. (October, 1916 — 

February, 191 7). 
Lieutenant-Colonel Meyrick (February 3rd, 191 7 — February 

17th, 1917). 
Lieutenant-Colonel R. Turner, D.S.O. (March ist, 191 7 — 

April, 1918). 
Lieutenant-Colonel G. Buckle, D.S.O., M.C. (April 12th, 1918 — 

May 3rd, 1918). 
Lieutenant-Colonel Le Houquet (May 5th, 1918 — May 13th, 



Lieutenant-Colonel Walsh, D.S.O. (May 17th, igi8 — May 29th, 

Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Foster (June, iyi8 — August, igiS). 
Major J. H. Piper, M.C. (August, 1918 — September, 1918). 
Lieutenant-Colonel R. Turner, D.S.O. (September, 1918 — 

January, 1919). 
i\Iajor J. H. Piper, M.C. (January — March, 1919). 

I2TH (S.) Battalion Middlesex Regiment. 

Brigadier-General F. A. Maxwell, V.C, D.S.O. (kiUed). 
Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Glover. 
Lieutenant-Colonel Osborne. 
Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. H. Johnson. 
Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Bridcutt. 

Both Field Company Royal Engineers. 

Major H. G. Joly de Lotbiniere (now Lieutenant-Colonel, Brevet- 
Colonel) (October, 1914 — November, 191 5). 

Captain F. J. N. King (November, 1915 — January, 1916). 

Captain B. I. Chambers (January, 1916 — March, 1916). 

Major A. A.Chase, D.S.O. (March, 1916 — January, 1917), (killed 
in action). 

Major G. Bremner, D.S.O., M.C. (January, 1917 — March, 1918), 
(killed in action). 

Major G. Ledgard, M.C. (March, 1918 — March, 1919). 

152ND Company Royal Army Service Corps. 
Captain E. M. West, M.C. (September, 1914 — March, 1919). 

54TH Field Ambulance Royal Army Medical Corps. 

Lieutenant-Colonel M. C. Beatty (July, 1915 — April, 1916). 
Lieutenant-Colonel D. C. Barron (April, igi6 — February, 1917). 
Lieutenant-Colonel G. Pritchard-Taylor, D.S.O., M.C. (February, 
1917 — March, 1919). 

54TH Trench Mortar Battery. 

Captain H. M. Eldridge, M.C. (till August, 1917). 
Captain R. Knight, M.C. (August, 1917 — March, 1918). 
Captain P. J. Payton, M.C. (March, 1918 — February, 1919). 

[Note. — The foregoing lists have been supplied by the units 
concerned, who are responsible for their accuracy.] 

Appendix B 


The following officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of 
the Brigade were awarded the Victoria Cross. The ranks given 
are those held at the time the awards were made. 

Sergeant William E. Boulter, 6th (S.) Battalion 
Northamptonshire Regiment. 

For most conspicuous bravery. During the capture of Trones 
Wood, on July 14th, 1916, one company and a portion of another 
were held up by a machine gun, which was causing heavy 

Sergeant Boulter, realizing the situation, with complete dis- 
regard of his own safety, and in spite of being severely wounded 
in the shoulder, advanced alone across the open in front of the 
gun under heavy fire, and bombed the team from their position, 
thereby saving the lives of many of his comrades, and materially 
assisting the advance, which eventually cleared Trones Wood. 

2nd-Lieutenant T. E. Adiam, 7th (S.) Battalion 
Bedfordshire Regiment. 

For most conspicuous bravery and gallant leadership during 
the operations at Thiepval on September ajth-aSth, igi6. 

On the morning of the 27th a portion of the village which 
had defied capture the previous day had to be taken at all 
rosts, to enable the battalion to form up for an attack on the 
ridge beyond. This minor operation was held up by extremely 
heavy rifle and machine-gun fire from several strong points. 

2nd-Lieutenant Adlam, realizing that time was all important, 
dashed across the open under the heaviest fire from shell-hole 
to shell-hole to collect his men for a combined rush. He col- 
lected a quantity of German grenades, and started a whirlwind 
attack on the enemy position. During this period he was 
wounded in the leg, so that at times he had to throw from a 
kneeling position. In spite of this he succeeded in out-throw- 
ing the enemy, and then, seizing his opportunity, in spite of 
his wound, he led a rush on the position and captured it, killing 
all the occupants of the trench. He continued with his men 
throughout the day, leading them with the greatest gallantry 
in smaller bombing attacks. 

The following day he again displayed the highest courage in 
the course of the attack on Schwaben Redoubt. Though again 
wounded, this time in the right arm, so that he could no longer 
throw bombs himself, he continued to lead his men, with utter 
contempt of danger, until he was ordered to the rear. 



Private Frederick J. Edwards, 12th (S.) Battalion 
Middlesex Regiment. 

For most conspicuous courage, resource, and presence of mind 
displayed during the attack on Thiepval on September 26th, 

His part of the hne was held up by a machine gun. The 
officers had all become casualties. There was confusion, and 
even suggestions of retirement. Private Edwards grasped the 
situation at once. Alone and on his own initiative, he dashed 
towards the gun, which he bombed until he succeeded in knock- 
ing it out. By this gallant act, performed with great presence 
of mind and a complete disregard for his personal safety, this 
man made possible the continuance of the advance, and solved 
a dangerous situation. His was probably one of those decisive 
actions which determine the success or failure of an operation. 

Private Robert Ryder, 12th (S.) Battalion 
Middlesex Regiment. 

For most conspicuous bravery and initiative during the attack 
on Thiepval on September 26th, 1916. 

His company was held up by heavy fire from the trench in 
front of them, and all his officers had become casualties. The 
attack was flagging for want of leadership. Private Ryder, 
realizing the situation, without a moment's thought tor his 
own safety, dashed absolutely alone at the enemy trench, and 
by skilful manipulation of his Lewis gun succeeded in clearing 
the trench. 

By this brilliant act he not only made possible, but also 
inspired, the advance of his comrades. It seems probable that 
this single heroic action made all the difference between success 
and failure in this part of the attacking line. 

Private Christopher August Cox, 7th (S.) Battalion 
Bedfordshire Regiment. 

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as a stretcher- 
bearer during operations in front of Achiet-le-Grand on 
March 15th, 191 7, and subsequent days. 

During the attacks on the 15th, under heavy rifle, machine- 
gun, and shell fire on an exposed crest, Private Cox worked 
continuously, carrying back wounded men on his .shoulders. 
On the 1 6th and 17th he continued this work without rest, 
and with a complete disregard of his own safety. 

This man has been in every engagement in which his bat- 
talion has taken part since July, 19 16, and has always displayed 
the highest example of unselfishness, devotion, and personal 


2nd-Lieutenant Alfred Cecil Herring, R.A.S.C, attached 
6th (S.) Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment. 

For initiative, conspicuous gallantry, and devotion to duty 
on March 23rd and 24th, 19 18. 

On March 23rd the Germans crossed the Montagne Bridge, 
after some fighting, and gained a position on the south bank 
of the canal. and-Lieutenant Herring's post was cut off and 
surrounded. He immediately counter-attacked with his post, 
and recaptured the position, taking over twenty prisoners and 
six machine guns. 

The post was attacked continuously throughout the night 
for eleven hours, and all attacks were beaten off. This was 
entirely due to the splendid heroism displayed by 2nd-Lieutenant 
Herring, who continually visited his men during the night and 
cheered them up. The initiative and individual bravery of this 
officer were entirely responsible for holding up the German 
advance for eleven hours at an exceedingly critical period. 

The late Lance-Corporal Albert Lewis, 6th (S.) Battalion 
Northamptonshire Regiment. 

On the morning of September i8th, 1918, this N.C.O. was in 
charge of a section which he had successfully kept together. 
He was on the right of the line, and the battalion started to 
advance to attack Ronssoy, where the east and west barrage 

The battalion advanced to a point where the enemy machine- 
gun fire was so intense that it was a practical impossibility to 
get forward. The barrage went on, and the battalion was 
temporarily held up. This man, working with his section on 
the right amongst the ruins, observed two enemy machine guns 
opposite him, enfilading the whole battalion. He crawled for- 
ward single-handed on his own initiative with bombs, got within 
bombing range, and successfully bombed the teams manning 
the enemy's guns. The enemy left their guns and ran out of 
their emplacement. Lance-Corporal Lewis thereupon used his 
rifle with good effect, and the whole team surrendered. He 
wounded six and captured four unwounded. By his courage 
and determination in putting out of action two enemy machine 
guns he undoubtedly enabled the battalion to advance, and so 
contributed largely to the success that followed. 

Later, on September 21st, during another attack, this N.C.O. 
displayed splendid power of command. When his company was 
caught in the enemy barrage he was the first to rush them 
through it, until they came under heavy fire from enemy machine 
guns, whereupon he immediately began to place them out in 
shell-holes. While doing this he was killed. 


Lieutenant Frederick William Hedges, Bedfordshire Regiment, 
attached 6th (S.) Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment. 

For conspicuous gallantry and initiative during operations 
north-east of Bousies on October 24th, IQ18. 

During the morning this officer, who was detailed to leap- 
frog his company to the final objective, handled his company 
in a very skilful manner, maintaining direction under the most 
difficult conditions. His company was on the right of the Brigade 

He advanced a considerable distance to a point where his 
further advance was held up by about six machine-gun posts 
on the hill opposite the line. Early in the afternoon this officer 
made up his mind to clear out these enemy posts. Later, 
accompanied by one sergeant, and followed at some considerable 
distance by a llewis gun section, he proceeded up the hill under 
cover of a hedge, and killed the first machine gunner and took 
two other prisoners. He then worked his way along the crest 
of the hill, and dealt with three other machine-gun posts in a 
similar manner, taking the feed blocks out of the guns, his 
total being four machine guns and fourteen men. 

The direct result of this officer's action was that the whole 
line, which had been held up since morning, was enabled to 
advance, thus having a great effect on subsequent operations. 



A 000 565 334 o